Jessica Chapel / Railbird

Super Saver

Preakness Notes

The best horse won,” writes Andrew Beyer, who picked Lookin at Lucky for the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes and must have been pleased when the colt took the second leg of the Triple Crown by three-quarters of a length in a time of 1:55.47, good for a Beyer speed figure of 102 (replay). Trainer Bob Baffert certainly was, telling Claire Novak after the race:

“This was a different kind of win,” he said. “This was a redemption win. This horse is such a warrior. He wants to win. He tries so hard. So I wanted to win it for the horse, you know, because he tries so hard every time. It’s easy to lose a little faith in him … I heard people say he gets in trouble because maybe he’s not that good. So today, when I saw Martin hit that wire, I was so happy for that horse.”

Sweet vindication, and not only for believing in his horse after all the troubles of Lucky’s last three races, but for making a rider switch from Garrett Gomez to Martin Garcia. “They have been winning at a steady, phenomenal 32 percent clip,” writes John Scheinman of the Baffert-Garcia combo, “and whatever magic the two have between them is alchemic.”

There was no magic for Gomez in the Preakness, riding Dublin for trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Post position 12 proved as disastrous as Lukas anticipated when entries were drawn. Explained the rider:

“The first three jumps were not good. He tried to go into the gap and made a right turn with me. When I straightened him, they were all gone and we were pretty much out of it.”

Dublin finished fifth after he exited the gate veering outside. You could say the break cost him the race; he ran the first quarter more than 18 lengths off the lead in a dismal :26 flat. He then ran the second in :23.29, the third in :23.73, and wrapped up in :43.44. All of those times were faster than Lookin at Lucky’s (faster, in fact, than any of the top four finishers). Lucky closed in :43.81 after running splits of :23.45, :23.87, and :24.34. What most struck me, though, looking at the fractions, is how much Dublin’s Preakness run looks like Ice Box’s Derby run, and that the difference in how their finishes are being perceived is a great example of the strength of the visual impact made by a runner-up appearing to close swiftly on a leader in the final yards of a race, compared to an also-ran finishing out of the money.

Both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners will skip the Belmont Stakes, which is lousy news for NYRA, an organization that could use a little financial boost. Baffert said that Lookin at Lucky would be prepped for the Haskell Invitational Stakes on August 1, while trainer Todd Pletcher indicated that Super Saver would be freshened for a late summer return. The Derby winner, apparently looking drawn on Saturday, finished eighth as the 9-5 favorite. “What are you gonna do? It was the two weeks,” said Pletcher.

Or is it that this crop of 3-year-olds isn’t so hot? “You have to wonder about the quality of the group,” says Michael Veitch. Yes, you do, when watching the juvenile champion grind out a short lead over a maiden winner to take the Preakness, and the Derby winner wilts at a mile to finish worse than any other at Pimlico since Monarchos in 2001. Two-thirds of the way through the spring classic season, it’s hard not to think about what could have been: “[I]f Eskendereya had stayed sound,” speculates Steve Crist, “we might well be looking at a runaway Derby-Preakness winner going for a Crown this year.” Watch the Wood Memorial replay if you doubt.

Preakness Picks

Mea culpa: Super Saver never appeared on my top 10 list before the Kentucky Derby. He didn’t appear on any of my tickets Derby day either, despite one small mention I made Derby week of his positive attributes. (I can’t toss him? Well, I did.) For the Preakness, though, I’m on the bandwagon. Despite Todd Pletcher’s concern that 14 days may be too quick a turnaround (a worry Andrew Beyer knocks down), all reports are that the colt came out the Derby in excellent condition and is exercising enthusiastically at Pimlico. With little pace expected, and his now proven versatility, Super Saver will be tough to beat in the Preakness. I’ll be playing an exacta with Caracortado, the California-bred gelding with an ugly Santa Anita Derby running line shipping east for the first time. He’s fresh, he has heart, and he prefers to be forwardly placed, a running style that should suit a race without much speed.

More picks: Horserace Insider, The Rail, Hello Race Fans.

Calvin Borel walks back: Flush with the immediate thrill of a Derby win, the jockey made a bold prediction. “I’m going to win the Triple Crown this year.” This week, he’s feeling more circumspect:

“I knew if he could win the Derby, he’d be really tough in the next two legs,” said Borel. “But to predict a Triple Crown? You just can’t do that. Man, winning it is tough to do.”

Pletcher is feeling good:

“It’s a challenge, for sure. But it’s something you look forward to. To me, there’s nothing as exciting in this game as potentially going to the Belmont with a Triple Crown candidate, and that’s certainly what we’re hoping for.”

Kenny Mayne checks in from Baltimore:

As I climbed four flights of stairs I wondered if we’d have to airlift Hank Goldberg onto the roof. He’s weighed down by that much money.

Changing the subject: I’ve been meaning to return to Wednesday’s post on the Breeders’ Cup, in which I glossed over a couple important points; I might wait another day or two to do so, considering the news this afternoon that MI Developments has voided the Oak Tree at Santa Anita contract. Regarding the discussions between the Breeders’ Cup and Oak Tree about hosting the event permanently at Santa Anita, Oak Tree executive Sherwood Chillingworth commented, “This certainly could affect that in some way.” Understated.

Elsewhere: A short piece about fractions for Hello Race Fans.

The Borel Factor

Imagine the Derby winning rider on another horse, muses Jennie Rees:

Not to disparage the jockeys of the horses below, and maybe it wouldn’t apply at any other track, and maybe not any other race. (And in no way to take anything away from Super Saver’s big effort.)

But wouldn’t you want to know what kind of trips that Lookin At Lucky and Ice Box would have gotten if Calvin Borel had been aboard?

Both might have had better trips with Borel aboard, but would it have mattered for either? I briefly wrote about the Derby fractions yesterday; individual splits were ugly, final fractions lousy. It seems unlikely a rider change would have meant anything to Lookin at Lucky, “bumped two or three times” in the early going. After a troubled first in :25.84, the favorite did pick up the pace a little, running the second quarter in :24.11, the third in the same time, and the fourth in :24.62, but his final quarter was an unexciting :26.95. Whatever else happened, Lookin at Lucky didn’t have it yesterday — not losing ground at the start might have moved him up in the order of finish, but he wasn’t going to win. Ice Box is a little more interesting to consider: He ran every quarter but the first faster than the winner. You can’t begrudge trainer Nick Zito for wondering about what might have been, if the Florida Derby winner had only broken a bit more quickly and not been steadied twice in the stretch.

That Rees is even wondering about what could have been with Borel reflects how big a story is the rider this year: “Borel is the Derby king,” with his uncanny affinity for Churchill Downs. Blame the rider “for turning America’s great race into a rerun” with his rail-riding confidence. Call him “a man of destiny.” “He knows Churchill Downs better than anyone else,” and his “uncluttered mind seems to be an absolute gift in pressure situations.” After winning three times in four years, is there any chance the public will let Borel go to post in the 2011 Derby on a horse that’s more than 3-1?

How Super Saver prepped: Lightly. This year’s winner started in two preps (making him the fourth consecutive horse to win the Derby doing so — it’s time for me to concede such contenders must be taken seriously) and had only one work between the Arkansas Derby and Kentucky Derby:

Of the top five finishers, two came out of the Arkansas Derby (Super Saver, Noble’s Promise) and two (Paddy O’Prado, Make Music for Me) from the Blue Grass Stakes — a reminder that race still has some claim as a legitimate Derby prep, regardless of what handicappers think of the Polytrack era or its longshot winners.

5/3/10 Addendum: Somehow I missed Borel’s post-Derby prediction:

“I’m going to win the Triple Crown this year,” he declared.

Bold. But could this be the year?

Derby 136 Notes

The winners: Congratulations to Calvin Borel, the first jockey to win the Kentucky Derby three times in four years, and to Todd Pletcher, who won his first Derby, putting an end to springtime stories about his double-digit string of losses. “It feels awfully good,” said Pletcher of his victory. Super Saver, one of the trainer’s four starters, finished 2 1/2 lengths in front of Ice Box, a neck in front of Paddy O’Prado, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Make Music For Me (chart).

The tote: Early Kentucky Derby wagering, odd as it looked, was smart. With more than an hour to post, Marcus Hersh observed:

Super Saver is still 8-1 (Calvin Borel money, for the most part, one assumes) with Sidney’s Candy finally showing some movement, too, now at 9-1. Ice Box continues to be remarkably short, 10-1, but not so much as Paddy O’Prado, who is 11-1 despite having one career win — that having come on turf — and a distant seventh-place maiden finish in his lone dirt start.

Little changed over the next 60 minutes. At post time, odds ran from 6.30-31.60, headed by Lookin at Lucky, followed by Super Saver at 8-1. Discreetly Mine was the longest shot. The compressed range probably reflected bettors’ sense of a wide-open race and a belief that anything could happen (see: Backtalk, 23-1 or Homeboykris, 27-1), but the public still turned out to be a fairly accurate judge of contenders’ chances: Of the top four finishers, three were among the top seven betting choices, and five of the top seven picks finished in the top 10, with Lookin at Lucky running sixth, after a trip that had him squeezed out and shuffled back from the start, and the filly Devil May Care finishing 10th at 10-1. Sidney’s Candy, the third favorite at 9-1, finished 17th. (It couldn’t have helped that the colt was unnerved by the crowd — his body tense, ears back, head turning toward the spectacle — as he was being loaded into the gate. He was the picture of an unhappy horse.)

The times: Final time for the Derby was 2:04.45, the slowest since 1989, with splits of :22.63, :23.53, :24.72, :27.07, and :26.80. Conveyance, with Sidney’s Candy pressing, led the field through “ludicrous fractions“; the pace collapsed as anticipated. Super Saver was there to pick up with a fourth quarter of :26.22 and a final quarter of :26.55. Ice Box, though, appeared to be closing faster after clearing traffic twice, and he was, running the fourth quarter in :24.45 (the second fastest split, with only Make Music for Me, :24.01, quicker) and the final in :26.10 (the fastest). It’ll be interesting to see what the figure makers come up with, considering conditions and individual running lines.

The trip: Untroubled. Heading into the final turn, Borel has Super Saver perfectly positioned for the stretch run. They’re in the lead at the eighth pole:

5/2/10 Update: Beyer speed figures for the top three Kentucky Derby finishers: Super Saver, 104; Ice Box, 100; Paddy O’Prado, 100.