05/02/2010 11:00PM

It's all about Calvin


The Kentucky Derby is a difficult race to win and no less difficult to pick the winner. You can be right about 15, 16 horses and still be wrong enough to rip up your tickets. Then again, maybe it is a whole lot easier than that. Maybe all you have to do is back the horse Calvin Borel is riding. Seriously!

Borel won his third Derby in four years aboard a very fit Super Saver, who safely avoided the trouble that impacted almost every other horse in the field. Actually, he helped cause some of the jam up that eliminated Lookin At Lucky in the first furlong.

Borel's Derby success might even tempt some of us who endlessly study past performances, review prep races, or evaluate Derby week workouts to simply put a ring around whomever he rides in 2011.

In my Derby handicapping - after the scratching of Eskendereya - I decided to place even more emphasis than usual on the way this seemingly well matched field of 20 trained at Churchill Downs. Like most players, I also believed that the probable fast early pace would take its toll on those involved.

It also was easy to downgrade Lookin At Lucky's chances to win from post 1 in the 20 horse field. While some players may have disregarded the potentially negative impact of the inside post, any fair review of this Derby should alter that view.

Going in, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert worried that Lookin At Lucky was going to face extreme pressure from several horses outside of him.

"I knew we were in trouble when we drew that post," Baffert said. "Frankly, I wish they'd go back to letting us select the posts for ourselves - with maybe the 10 horses with the most graded earnings being given a shake to set up the order in which we pick."

Beyond the obvious, the rail post for the 10-furlong distance at Churchill is borderline dangerous, as it is set slightly inside the curvature of the inner rail. Thus jockey Garrett Gomez would had to angle Lookin At Lucky out a bit to secure a safe path from the 1 1/4-mile starting chute merely to avoid running into the inner rail.

Borel aboard Super Saver in post 4 certainly did not help Gomez out of his dilemma en route to his familiar place along the rail about five lengths behind the faster-breaking Conveyance, Sidney's Candy, and Line of David. Fact is, Stately Victor in post 6 came in on Super Saver, who in turn came in further to tighten up Lookin At Lucky, whose resume of tough trips is reaching epic proportions.

By the time the leaders entered the far turn, Borel was edging closer to the front as four of the five horses in front of him began fading to the rear and a cavalry charge of stretch-running contenders began to pick up steam.

Only Noble's Promise, who was in the first flight ahead of Super Saver, stayed on, taking the lead briefly in the upper stretch just as Borel guided Super Saver around the retreating Conveyance to the rail again. After dismissing Noble's Promise approaching the final furlong, Super Saver opened up what proved to be an insurmountable advantage over the few stretch-running threats to emerge from dense traffic.

Ice Box certainly showed his best late punch after being forced to steady multiple times. Paddy O' Prado, who did his part forcing horses inside of him to steady at the break, ran a solid race despite changing paths three times to avoid getting stopped. Actually, Paddy seemed a brief danger to the winner in midstretch only to flatten out late.

Make Music for Me also closed well for fourth, while the filly Devil May Care made a good run to reach third inside the final furlong before tiring to 10th. Dublin, who trained erratically at Churchill, rallied wide on the final turn but never completed the move to wind up seventh. Looking At Lucky? All he did was make two strong runs from way back that only got him sixth place.

Virtually all the others in the field had no excuses other than their possible dislike for the wet track or of this distance on this day.

As far as my handicapping, I have no explanation why I stuck with Awesome Act and Mission Impazible as my first two horses of preference after positively ranking the workouts of nine horses I watched on HRTV and other websites in the following order: Ice Box, Super Saver, Paddy O' Prado, Lookin At Lucky, Awesome Act, Devil May Care, Mission Impazible, and to some extent Homeboykris. Although I did use Ice Box and Super Saver in some exactas, I left Paddy O'Prado completely out of my trifectas, a costly oversight. That aside, the key to cashing big in this race was Calvin Borel, just as he has been three times in the last four years.

Todd Pletcher and owner WinStar Farm also came out the race with Derby roses. Both lost what seemed to be their best Derby contender when Pletcher had to remove Eskendereya last week and WinStar had to take Endorsement out in midweek following a very good workout that left him with a career-threatening leg injury.

It was somewhat ironic that both Pletcher and WinStar would win their first Derby with Super Saver, who less than a month ago was considered by WinStar farm manager Elliott Walden as the one speed horse among its Derby prospects who was "too unsettled," too prone to waste his natural speed.

Borel certainly played a role in changing that when he was able to settle Super Saver behind front-running Line of David in the Arkansas Derby. Pletcher also deserves considerable credit for keeping his eye on the ball after his disappointment of losing Eskendereya last Sunday. Every one of Super Saver's training moves were among the very best seen at Churchill throughout the week.

After the race, Pletcher's demeanor was typically stoic, but we should know that he always has his mind on the next target. In this case the next target is the 1 3/16-mile Preakness at Pimlico on May 15, and there may be as many as a full field of 14 horses in the starting gate.

Prospective challengers include Dublin, Noble's Promise, and possibly Jackson Bend or his stablemate Ice Box, pending trainer Nick Zito and owner Robert LaPenta's decision. Lookin At Lucky and Conveyance also are possibilities, with Baffert to decide this weekend. The same is true for Paddy O'Prado and Make Music for Me.

Probable newcomers to the Triple Crown include Hurricane Ike, Aikenite and Pleasant Prince, the one-two-three finishers in the Derby Trial at Churchill Downs on April 24; Schoolyard Dreams, fourth in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 3; Caracortado, fourth in the Santa Anita Derby April 3; and Turf Melody, third in the Illinois Derby April 3.

Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer already has announced that Kentucky Oaks winner Blind Luck is not a candidate for the Preakness. The same is true for Devil May Care, the Pletcher-trained filly who finished 10th in the Derby.

Borel has publicly predicted that Super Saver - a beautifully bred son of Maria's Mon out of an A.P. Indy mare - may leave Pimlico as a serious threat to sweep the Triple Crown. Right now, the new version of Super Saver is likely to be a heavy betting favorite to take the next jewel. Should he win the Preakness, that also would give Todd Pletcher a personal Triple Crown - wins in all three of America's prestigious spring classics. In 2007, Pletcher beat Preakness winner Curlin in the Belmont with the filly Rags to Riches.