Super Saver wins a dirty Derby

Super Saver ridden by jockey Calvin Borel crosses the finish line to win the 136th Kentucky Derby...

Super Saver ridden by jockey Calvin Borel crosses the finish line to win the 136th Kentucky Derby on Saturday. (REUTERS/John Sommers II)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:07 PM ET

LOUISVILLE, KY. - LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Todd Pletcher may believe what he says, that he will be no better a trainer Sunday morning than he was early Saturday evening.

For the first time in his life, however, he will wake up as a Kentucky Derby winner.

When it came to the opening jewel of racing’s Triple Crown, one of the best trainers of his generation had found every way to lose.

He has been beaten with strong contenders and with long shots, with bad luck and bad breaks. It added up to an 0-for-24 record making Pletcher living proof that the Derby is one of the most elusive prizes in sport.

But on a day when the Churchill Downs track was knee deep in mud and his best horse was back in the barn, the sun finally broke through for Pletcher.

With jockey Calvin Borel doggedly urging him to keep running past the Twin Spires and charge the finish line, Super Saver was his salvation.

“Obviously it’s a race I’ve dreamed my whole life of winning,” Pletcher said. “I wish I could wax poetically how it all feels, but it’s all kind of soaking in right now.

“The one important thing to me was win it while my parents were still here to see it.”

The senior Pletchers - both in their 70s weren’t the only witnesses. A crowd of 155,803 braved the miserable conditions and relentless rain.

Bettors across North America struggled with one of the most vexing betting editions of the Run for the Roses.

And all watched Borel make Derby history of his own, taking the opening jewel of the Triple Crown for an unprecedented third time in four years.

After opening up enough ground in the stretch, Super Saver was comfortably able to hold off a late charge from Ice Box who finished 2 1/2 lengths back in second while Paddy O'Prado rounded out the triactor. The winner returned $18 on a $2 win investment and ran the 1 1/4 miles in a decent 2:04.45 given the severe off track.

Hindsight being the one thing bettors would sell their soul to possess, Super Saver made sense.

He had won on an off track - a rarity in this field of 20 three-year-olds. He had also won at Churchill, another edge that set him above the majority. And most of all, he had Borel who seems to ride America’s most famous track like it is in his dreams.

That Pletcher had yet to win the Derby spoke to the race’s challenge. He has won so many of the sport’s major stakes - the Belmont, multiple Breeders’ Cups and even the Canadian classic, the Queen’s Plate with Archers Bay back in 1998. When it came to the Derby, however, all bets were off.

Even this year Pletcher seemed snake bitten as a week ago his stable star, Eskendereya, had to be withdrawn due to injury. Still, he saddled four others on Saturday and hoped for the best.

From the start, things fell Super Saver’s way. Favourite Lookin at Lucky, stuck in the dreaded Post 1, was body-checked sharply twice before the race was an eighth of a mile through. Borel, as his way, found position to keep his charge close enough to the leaders but relaxed enough to conserve energy for when it was needed most.

To his credit, Pletcher never did beat himself up about past losses, recognizing the confluence of good fortune required to win it. The worst part is over at least as he no longer needs to answer questions about when (or if) his fortunes would turn.

Perhaps fearing the worst, the trainer watched the race alone, on TV, in a room just under the grandstand.

“When he got to the eighth pole, I was looking to see if there was anyone else coming,” Pletcher said.

“When it became obvious he was going to win, it was a special feeling.”

Even if seemed to take a lifetime to arrive.


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