LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (AP)
The starting gate sprung open in the Kentucky Derby, with 19 horses scrambling for position. One jockey knew exactly where he was headed.
Calvin Borel deftly tucked Super Saver along the rail Saturday on a track turned into creamy peanut butter by heavy rain. Once again, he was in his favorite spot, getting a clear path all the way through the goo.
That’s why they call him “Bo-rail” and, for the third time in four years, he took the shortest path to the winner’s circle.
Borel found only one horse in his way, and once he steered Super Saver around front-running Conveyance, another Run for the Roses was his.
The most wide-open Derby in years ended with a sure thing – Borel crossing the finish line and punching the air with this right fist, this time raising it toward a leaden sky.
“I knew nothing was going to run him down,” he said, referring to his bay colt.
The jockey’s magic touch on his home track gave trainer Todd Pletcher his first Derby victory after 24 failures with a 2 1/2-length victory over Ice Box.
“Calvin Borel is a great rider anywhere he goes, but at Churchill Downs he’s even five lengths better,” Pletcher said. “He knows how to ride this track and gets along with his colt beautifully.”
Borel’s ride at his home track nearly duplicated the one he turned in last year aboard 50-1 shot Mine That Bird, except he and Super Saver went off at lower odds and were never in last place.
Now the trio heads to Baltimore for the Preakness on May 15.
“Calvin already said he’s going to win the Triple Crown,” Pletcher said, “so I guess we’d better go there.”
The Triple Crown was last won 32 years ago by Affirmed. The last Derby winner to break from Super Saver’s No. 4 post was 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew.
Borel almost pulled off his own personal triple last year. Mine That Bird won the Derby, then Borel switched to filly Rachel Alexandra to win the Preakness before going back to Mine That Bird in the Belmont Stakes. They finished third as the 6-5 favorite.
On Saturday, he was confident enough in his colt and his knowledge of the track to take him off the lead in the early going of the 1 1/4-mile race. In all but one of his six previous races, Super Saver had never been farther back than second in the early stages.
Borel knew that strategy wouldn’t work in a 20-horse Derby field on a tiring, sloppy track that had been pelted by heavy rain early in the day. So they hugged the rail in sixth place, while many of his rivals were well off the fence in the muck.
“We all know what he’s going to do,” said Robby Albarado, who finished 14th aboard Dean’s Kitten. “He just does it anyway.”
Said Borel: “I was just taught it’s the shortest way around.”
Super Saver was timed in 2:04.45 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. He paid $18, $8.80 and $6.
Pletcher let out a whoop and slapped his hands together after his colt crossed the finish line, snapping a skid the Eclipse Award-winning trainer was eager to end. He watched the race alone on TV in the horseman’s lounge near the paddock.
“It will all soak in in a day or two,” he said. “Now that it’s happened, you just kind of don’t know what to feel or say.”
He seemed to have a lock on his first Derby win until expected favorite Eskendereya was withdrawn last weekend with a swollen leg. That left Pletcher with four horses in the race, but none as highly regarded.
His other finishers were: Mission Impazible, ninth; filly Devil May Care, 10th; and Discreetly Mine, 13th.
Pletcher’s only other Triple Crown race victory was in 2007 at Belmont with the filly Rags to Riches. The lack of a Derby win by the 42-year-old former assistant to D. Wayne Lukas was the most glaring omission on his resume and something he was constantly asked about.
It wasn’t for lack of trying.
In 2007, he saddled five in the Derby, with none finishing higher than sixth.
“It’s the one thing that was important to me,” he said. “The one thing I wanted to do while my parents were still here to see it.”
Borel is the first jockey to win three Derbys in four years; Bill Hartack won three from 1960-64.
“Calvin Borel is amazing. He is fearless,” trainer Bob Baffert said. “He takes control of the race, and you have to give him a lot of credit. He’s a great rider.”
Baffert should know. He thought he had his fourth Derby victory in the bag last year until front-running Pioneerof the Nile was overtaken in the stretch by Borel and Mine That Bird.
Baffert’s Lookin At Lucky wound up sixth, clearly compromised by starting on the rail. His other colt, Conveyance, finished 15th after setting the pace for more than three-quarters of a mile.
“I lost all chance at the post position draw when I drew the one,” Baffert said. “I had a bad feeling about it.”
Trained by Nick Zito, Ice Box returned $11.20 and $8. Paddy O’Prado was another neck back in third and paid $7.40 to show.
“I couldn’t get lucky enough to beat Calvin,” said Zito, a two-time winner.
Make Music for Me was fourth, followed by Noble’s Promise, Lookin At Lucky, Dublin, Stately Victor, Mission Impazible, Devil May Care, American Lion and Jackson Bend.
Discreetly Mine was 13th, followed by Dean’s Kitten, Conveyance, Homeboykris, Sidney’s Candy, Line of David, Awesome Act and Backtalk.
The crowd of 155,804 sought shelter early on from the rain, which had stopped by post time, with sun breaking through the clouds.