Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I)
(gr. I , 10f ,)
Maria's Mon Supercharger , by A.P. Indy
BWinStar Farm, LLC, KY.; OWinStar Farm LLC; TTodd A. Pletcher
Pulpit Spice Island , by Tabasco Cat
BDenlea Park Ltd., KY.; ORobert V. LaPenta; TNicholas P. Zito
El Prado (IRE) Fun House , by Prized
BWinchell Thoroughbreds LLC, KY.; ODonegal Racing; TDale L. Romans
Margins: 2½, neck, 2. Others: Make Music for Me 126($100,000) , Noble's Promise 126($60,000) , Lookin At Lucky 126 , Dublin 126 , Stately Victor 126 , Mission Impazible 126 , Devil May Care 121 , American Lion 126 , Jackson Bend 126 , Discreetly Mine 126 , Dean's Kitten 126 , Conveyance 126 , Homeboykris 126 , Sidney's Candy 126 , Line of David 126 , Awesome Act 126 , Backtalk 126 . Winning Jockey, Calvin H. Borel.
Todd Pletcher, Calvin Borel, and WinStar Farm do not evoke images of Cinderella. There are no ragged clothes, glass slippers, or handsome princes scripted in their story. All have been to the ball and achieved enough fame and glory to last a lifetime.
And then there is the regally bred Thoroughbred Super Saver, who was born to be a star and destined to achieve great things. No emergence from the claiming ranks or miraculous return from injury. For him, all roads have always led to the first Saturday in May in Louisville, Ky.
These are not the characters of fairy tales. But the Kentucky Derby has a unique way of interweaving plots and characters and penning tales even Walt Disney would be proud of.
In 2010 the Derby scriptwriters managed to take all four players and create a memorable chapter in its long and storied history, concluding with Super SaverÕs 21Ú2-length victory.
And they did it by putting their own twist on a familiar theme: Sometimes, even for the elite, one has to plunge to the deepest depths before truly appreciating what itÕs like to scale the greatest heights.
The day before the May 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) at Churchill Downs, Borel suffered his second consecutive defeat aboard last yearÕs Horse of the Year, Rachel Alexandra, in the grade II La Troienne Stakes. It was a tough blow to the sport and to the fillyÕs legion of fans. But most of all, it was hard on Borel, who has had a love affair with Rachel since he began riding her.
ÒSheÕs still our angel,Ó said BorelÕs wife, Lisa. ÒThere is nothing in the world that can change the way we feel about her.Ó
But racing is not a sport where one dwells on the past. There was another Kentucky Derby to look forward to, as well as the chance to become the first jockey in history to win three Derbys in four years.
A little more than 24 hours later, Borel, as he did in 2007 aboard Street Sense and in 2009 on Mine That Bird, was standing straight up in the irons, flailing his arms, and waving to the cheering crowd as he returned aboard a Kentucky Derby winner.
Lisa was unable to hold back the tears, breaking down on several occasions. ÒCongratulations, baby, I love you,Ó she shouted to him across the track, knowing he was unable to hear her. When he finally brought Super Saver onto the grass course on his way to the winnerÕs circle, Lisa rushed up to him. Borel reached down and kissed her and said, ÒThatÕs what I was born to do, baby.Ó
Standing off to the side, BorelÕs longtime agent, Jerry Hissam, was feeling good, not only because he had just won another Derby but because of his belief in Super Saver. Last November, after the son of MariaÕs MonÑSupercharger, by A.P. Indy, won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill with Borel up for the first time, Hissam assured Pletcher, ÒIÕm gonna break your maiden in the Derby.Ó
A week before the Derby, Hissam, as if looking into a crystal ball, said of the speed-conscious Super Saver, ÒCalvin will have that horse 10 lengths back. You watch how far he has him back. I told Calvin, ÔLet them keep not talking about you, because IÕm telling you this horse will run big.Õ When he got off him after his work (a half in :484Ú5 breezing, hugging the rail the whole way), Borel said, ÔDonÕt worry; IÕll have him back.Õ He gets them to skim that rail, and he lays them right on that fence. He teaches them what he wants them to learn.Ó
Hissam had just described to a T the running of the 2010 Kentucky Derby.
Unlike most other jockeys, who would never book a mount the race after the Derby, Borel honored his commitment to ride Omniscient in an allowance race for none other than Rachel AlexandraÕs owner and trainer, Jess Jackson and Steve Asmussen. He went into the coltÕs saddling stall and kept stroking his neck and shoulders for several minutes. The Derby celebration would have to be put on hold.
Borel gave it his all, battling on the front end early before finishing third. Returning after the race, he had a bright-red face and kept pouring water over his head. He paid no attention to the crowd cheering for him. Going up the escalator to the jockÕs room, he laid his head on the railing, obviously physically and mentally exhausted. Shortly after going into the locker room, he lapsed into what was later diagnosed as a heat stroke, and a nurse quickly was summoned. She said BorelÕs blood pressure was elevated but he was fine.
A few minutes earlier a jockey had come out of the locker room and said, ÒCalvinÕs trying to die in there.Ó
Borel soon emerged, his color back to normal, as if nothing had happened.
When Lisa arrived, she said, ÒHe wonÕt do that again. He thinks heÕs invincible, that heÕs made of iron. Even though he won the Derby, he didnÕt want to shirk his responsibilities to other people. I think the excitement was just too much for him. But tomorrow heÕll be up early and ready to go. HeÕll want to get on a horse for his brother (Cecil).Ó
For Pletcher, the trainer of Super Saver, most of the talk prior to the 136th Kentucky Derby was about his ignominious 0-for-24 record in the Run for the Roses.
Although he was constantly confronted with that statistic, he offered no excuses, knowing it was only a matter of time when that special horse would come along.
ÒTodd holds it pretty well within himself; a lot better than I do,Ó said PletcherÕs father, J.J., before the Derby. ÒHeÕs pretty sharp. HeÕs forgotten more about horses than IÕll ever know. All I did was make him work a little. He started reading the Racing Form when he was in the first grade. Every year I come to the Derby because IÕm afraid IÕll miss it when he does win. I get a lot more nervous than he does. I just want him to win; the money means nothing.Ó
The elder Pletcher remembers his son at the age of 6 walking hots and making picks at Sunland Park for his good friend, Corky Richardson, who would place a few dollars on the horses for Todd.
If Pletcher was ever going to win the Derby, this looked like the year. Not only did he have the overwhelming favorite in Eskendereya, runaway winner of the Wood Memorial (gr. I) and Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II), he also had major stakes winners Super Saver and Rule for WinStar Farm, Mission Impazible, Discreetly Mine, and Interactif. There would be no excuses this year.
But six days before the Derby, things began to unravel. Pletcher was forced to announce the crushing news that Eskendereya would miss the Derby because of a filling in his leg.
Even the normally stoic Pletcher could not hide his emotions. ÒThis is one of those things that will take a long time to get over,Ó he said after calling the coltÕs owner, Ahmed Zayat, to break the news to him. ÒNo matter what happens on Saturday, thereÕs always going to be that, ÔWhat if?Õ ThereÕs no way around it. ItÕs so hard to find horses like that.Ó
The next day Pletcher and WinStar decided to withdraw multiple stakes winner Rule from the Derby, following a subpar workout on April 24. With the subsequent defection of Interactif and addition of the filly, Devil May Care, it left Pletcher with three colts and one filly. Of those, only Super Saver and Devil May Care were considered leading contenders, with Mission Impazible and Discreetly Mine expected to be longshots.
In the span of a couple of days, Pletcher had taken a major hit and no longer appeared to be the dominant force in the Derby he had been just a short time earlier. Fast forward to May 1 and there was Pletcher hugging his jubilant mother, Jerrie, on his way to the winnerÕs circle.
As for WinStar, co-owned by Kenny Troutt and Bill Casner, they were having problems of their own, as their once-powerful four-horse entry of Super Saver, Rule, American Lion, and Endorsement, was reduced to two. They had already lost Rule when Endorsement, trained by farm manager Elliott WaldenÕs former assistant, Shannon Ritter, suffered a condylar fracture in his final Derby workout.
Casner was devastated, not as much for himself or WinStar as for Ritter. ÒThis is a tough day for Shannon,Ó he said. ÒShe lost the best horse sheÕs ever had. He was the entire focus of her life.Ó
As Casner spoke, tears began to well up. ÒWe as owners move in and out of these horsesÕ lives, but the trainers are there 24/7. TheyÕre there physically, and theyÕre there mentally, thinking about them constantly. No one is more deserving than Shannon. We were all rooting for her. This is probably one of the lowest points in her life. SheÕs a tough girl on the outside, but you know on the inside itÕs devastating. Things can change like that in this sport.Ó
For Casner and WinStar, they would change once again in a few days. As farm president Doug Cauthen said on his way to the winnerÕs circle, ÒGod works in mysterious ways. My dad (Ronald ÔTexÕ Cauthen, who died in June 2009) was pushing him all the way down the stretch.Ó
Casner could only shake his head at all that had transpired in the past several days. ÒUnbelievable; itÕs been an up-and-down week, hasnÕt it?Ó he asked. ÒClassic Calvin Bo-rail. He owns the Derby.Ó
And, finally, there was Super Saver, a WinStar homebred whom yearling manager Donnie Preston remembers as Òpretty tough. He wasnÕt overly aggressive or mean, but he had that attitude that you want to see that carries over to the racetrack. Whoever he was turned out with, he was always the leader of that group. You had to make sure you had a pretty good guy working with him. He was like your typical teenage boy. Now he acts like heÕs grown up and is more mature.Ó
Super Saver was sent to the farm for a little break over the winter, where he was allowed to go out in a round pen to unwind, and was hand-walked around the shed as much as possible.
Two races had been planned prior to the Derby, and Pletcher felt Super Saver took a big step forward after his third-place finish, beaten a half-length, in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III), and another step forward after his narrow defeat in the Arkansas Derby (gr. I), in which he was beaten a neck. Prior to the Kentucky Derby, Pletcher said he felt Super Saver Òprobably is the one who has turned the corner the most. I think heÕs better now than he was going into the Arkansas Derby.Ó
With Eskendereya out of the race and the two new favorites, Lookin At Lucky and SidneyÕs Candy, drawing the two worst post positionsÑ1 and 20, respectivelyÑit left the Derby as wide open a race as any of its previous runnings. Lookin At Lucky, who has been anything but lucky in his career, was made the lukewarm 6-1 favorite, with Super Saver (8-1) and SidneyÕs Candy (9-1) the only other horses in single-digit odds. A good deal of the support for Super Saver was due to Borel. The rest of the 20 horses were all being bet, with their odds ranging from 10-1 to 31-1.
Also getting bet at 11-1 was Florida Derby (gr. I) winner Ice Box, trained by two-time Derby winner Nick Zito, who was seeking his first Derby win in 16 years.
Zito could only hope for one thing. ÒI want Moses to do this,Ó he said, spreading his arms apart to signify the parting of the Red Sea.
Baffert, despite having the favorite, knew when Lookin At Lucky drew the rail his chances of winning a fourth Derby were greatly reduced. The only luck Lookin At Lucky has had in his last five starts has been bad, with poor posts and troubled trips, in which he had to check severely on two occasions.
ÒEverything was going so great, and now itÕs not happening,Ó Baffert said. ÒI donÕt feel it. This poor horse just canÕt get a break.Ó Little did Baffert know the coltÕs luck was about to get even worse.
Heavy morning rains and an ominous weather forecast put a damper on Derby day. But the rains ended in late morning, except for an occasional light shower, and just as the horses came on the track, the sun came out briefly, giving the sloppy track a bright sheen that reflected their images.
The last horse onto the track was SidneyÕs Candy, with 20-year-old Joe Talamo aboard. Talamo appeared to be engulfed by the wall of noise and in awe of the magnitude of the event as he looked wide-eyed into the packed grandstand. He was just grateful to be in the race after last yearÕs Derby mount, favored I Want Revenge, was scratched the morning of the race.
Lookin At Lucky broke alertly, but his troubles began immediately when Super Saver, with Borel already looking to get to the rail, came in and pushed NobleÕs Promise into Lookin At Lucky. Garrett Gomez was forced to take a slight hold of Lookin At Lucky, who was in good position, but several strides later, Paddy OÕPrado rushed up and forced Stately Victor into Lookin At Lucky, who was bumped hard, nearly going into the rail. Gomez had to check sharply, and the next thing he knew he was back in 18th. For Baffert the race was all but over.
Meanwhile, BaffertÕs other entry, Conveyance, had shot to the lead, followed closely by SidneyÕs Candy, who was having a great trip from the 20 post. The pair sped through a demanding opening quarter in :22.63 and half in :46.16.
Down the backstretch, SidneyÕs Candy put pressure on Conveyance, with NobleÕs Promise moving up steadily into fourth, then third. Borel, as expected, had Super Saver hugging the rail, with the coltÕs body nearly touching the fence. Amazingly, there was no one in front of him and plenty of room to his outside, as no other rider seemed willing or daring enough to venture onto the ÒBorel Trail,Ó as Baffert calls it. When asked how Borel gets away with it race after race, a dejected Kent Desormeaux, who rode Paddy OÕPrado, said after the race, ÒI donÕt knowÉwe let him.Ó
Around the far turn, the three-quarters in a testing 1:10.58, Conveyance was being pushed hard, as was SidneyÕs Candy. NobleÕs Promise unleashed a powerful run, splitting the two leaders and quickly opening a 11Ú2-length lead nearing the head of the stretch. Super Saver was moving into contention along the rail, with stablemate Devil May Care closing strongly on his outside, along with the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Dublin.
The pace was now slowing, with the mile run in 1:37.65. Borel, as he had done in both his other Derby victories, came around one horse, in this case Conveyance, and darted back to the rail. In a flash he charged by NobleÕs Promise and began to draw clear under steady right-handed whipping. Paddy OÕPrado split horses and then moved outside NobleÕs Promise to launch his bid, with Make Music for Me closing from dead-last on the far outside.
The hard-luck horse in the stretch was Ice Box, who rallied from 19th only to have holes keep closing on him. He still was 11th at the eighth pole when Jose Lezcano finally steered him abruptly to the outside, and the little chestnut exploded, while still on his left lead. Super Saver by now was long gone, but Ice Box put in a furious late rally to snatch second by a neck from Paddy OÕPrado.
Zito explained, ÒI said I needed Moses (to part the Red Sea), but he only did it once and that was for millions of people.Ó
Although he hasnÕt made an official decision, Zito is leaning toward running 12th-place finisher Jackson Bend in the Preakness (gr. I) and pointing Ice Box to the Belmont Stakes (gr. I). If Super Saver goes on and wins the Preakness, Zito, who has thwarted two Triple Crown attempts with Birdstone and DaÕ Tara, issued a subtle warning. ÒWeÕll be waiting for himÉat home.Ó
The final time for the $2,185,200 Derby was 2:04.45, which was two-fifths slower than Smarty JonesÕ Derby, also run over a sealed sloppy track. Make Music for Me ran a big race to finish fourth, with NobleÕs Promise hanging tough to be fifth. Lookin At Lucky, to his credit, never gave up and rallied to finish sixth, a half-length in front of Dublin. Even with all his trouble, Looking At Lucky was beaten only seven lengths for all the money.
Baffert, although disappointed and frustrated, put his usual light spin on it. ÒHey, I nailed Lukas for sixth,Ó he said. A few minutes later he and his wife, Jill, stood in the paddock and watched on the screen as E ZÕs Gentleman won the 12th race allowance event, cheering on the horse as if he were winning the Kentucky Derby, with Jill jumping up and down. ÒWell, we got something,Ó she said.
The following morning Baffert brought a young visitor and his family to see Lookin At Lucky, and the colt was sprawled out in his stall, oblivious to all the company. ÒSee, this what you look like the next day after you get beat up in the Kentucky Derby,Ó Baffert said.
After the race, Pletcher said he never dwelt on the 0-for-24 streak and didnÕt feel as if a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. He was well aware that the average price of his Derby starters was 29-1 and only four of his 24 starters were under 10-1. He did say that it was important to him because, ÒI wanted to win while my parents were still here to see it. Now that itÕs happened, you just donÕt know what to say or feel. I wish I could wax poetically and say exactly how it feels, but it hasnÕt really sunk in yet.Ó
He felt more at home back at the barn posing for pictures and sharing a toast with all his barn help, as they all raised their bottles of Corona to a job well done. Assistant trainer Mike McCarthy also was happy to share the victory with his parents. He was up Derby morning at 3:30 and at the barn before 4:30, getting ready for what he hoped would be the stableÕs biggest day ever.
Trainer Ian Wilkes, who was with Carl Nafzger for the Derby victories of Unbridled and Street Sense, stopped by and offered McCarthy some words of advice.
ÒI canÕt stress enough to just enjoy every minute of it,Ó Wilkes said. ÒI was here for Unbridled, and I never appreciated the magnitude of the Derby. But with Street Sense I was able to take it all in and enjoy it, because I realized how hard it is to get here. Even though you may think youÕll be back here every year, it takes a special horse.Ó
McCarthy replied, ÒIÕm just happy for Todd. It started off as a very bad week.Ó
But there is a saying that goes, ÒA hard fall means a high bounce if youÕre made of the right material.Ó
Todd Pletcher, Calvin Borel, WinStar Farm, and Super Saver will continue bouncing all the way to Baltimore, Md. b