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2010 Kentucky Derby: Super Saver is Todd Pletcher's ray of sun

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — On a day of evil weather, the sun finally came out for Todd Pletcher.

The shadows of the twin spires edged onto the shimmering slop of Churchill Downs just before post time, from the slightest bit of sunshine after thunder and lightning early in the day.

In that benign break in the weather Saturday, Pletcher finally won the Kentucky Derby after going 0-for-24 in the nine previous years, with Calvin Borel taking Super Saver home in what is the jockey's staked territory along the rail.

"Calvin Borel is a great rider anywhere he goes, but for some reason at Churchill Downs, he's even five lengths better," Pletcher said.

On a sloppy track pelted by heavy rain early in the day, and breaking from the No. 4 post, Borel tucked his colt along the rail — a predictable move considering his nickname, "Bo-rail" — and there they stayed almost the entire way.

Super Saver became the second Tampa Bay Downs graduate to win the Kentucky Derby, joining Street Sense, the 2007 Tampa Bay Derby winner at the Oldsmar track. Super Saver was third in this year's Tampa Bay Derby.

Super Saver finished in 2:04.45 Saturday as the 8-1 second-choice behind favorite Lookin At Lucky, whose 6-1 odds tied Harlan's Holiday in 2002 for the longest priced favorite in 136 runnings.

This Derby belongs to Super Saver for all time, as much his as the 1973 Derby belongs to Secretariat and the 2009 Derby belongs to the improbable Mine That Bird.

As obscure as Bird was, he ranks up there with Big Red — Secretariat, that is — in the only category that really counts: 1-for-1. Every Derby is different, by definition: no horse wins it twice. But jockeys, trainers and owners do accumulate a history.

Borel has won three of the past four Derbys because he is relentless in seeking the short route, and maybe a bit lucky, too. His horse drew the No. 4 post on Wednesday, as betting favorite Lookin At Lucky drew No. 1.

The horse is a good horse, Lookin At Lucky trainer Bob Baffert kept saying, but the good horse was squeezed once, twice, coming out of the gate, and finished sixth.

Pletcher did not necessarily get lucky. He hired Borel. Horses have short but glorious histories at the Derby, but humans have long and sometimes humbling journeys. Pletcher's admirable resume is now much more impressive, beyond the zillions of stakes races wins.

After having the expected favorite he trains, Eskendereya, drop out because of swelling in his left front leg, Pletcher won his first Derby — still behind the four of D. Wayne Lukas, the three of Baffert and the two of Nick Zito, but making him a member of the club.

"I think it will all soak in in a day or two," Pletcher, 42, said. "Obviously, it's a race I've dreamed my whole life of winning. Now that it's happened, I don't know what to feel or say. I wish I could wax poetically and tell you how it feels, but it's still kind of all soaking in."

On Saturday, once the colt took control there was no catching him, though Ice Box made a late charge on the outside to claim second with Jose Lezcano, the 2005-06 riding champion at Tampa Bay Downs, aboard. Paddy O'Prado came in third.

"I knew nothing was going to run him down," Borel said of his bay colt.

The victory gives WinStar Farms president Doug Cauthen a Derby win to stand alongside his brother, Hall of Fame jockey Steve Cauthen, won in 1978 aboard Affirmed. The win was a breakthrough for the thriving central Kentucky farm. WinStar's previous nine entries failed to reach the winner's circle, their closest finish a distant second with Bluegrass Cat in 2006.

The 155,804 fans were able to watch the races without being blown clear across to Indiana. Some wind and rain persisted during the day, but the weather window opened near post time, with sunshine spreading, and soon it landed on Pletcher's face.

"It feels terrific," Pletcher said, giving Borel, the 43-year-old Louisiana native, credit for the ride.

"We didn't want to handcuff him with too many instructions. 'Ride him like you own him.' He's an instinctive rider."

Now the trio heads to Baltimore for the May 15 Preakness.

"Calvin already said he's going to win the Triple Crown," Pletcher said, "so I guess we'd better go there."

As for next year's Derby Pletcher and Borel will surely be back, but Super Saver does not have to. Super Saver has had his one day in Louisville. He is Secretariat; he is Mine That Bird. This day of ominous weather will forever belong to him.

2010 Kentucky Derby: Super Saver is Todd Pletcher's ray of sun 05/01/10 [Last modified: Saturday, May 1, 2010 11:58pm]
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