05/04/2010 11:00PM

As usual, Derby turned out to be quite a trip


Running style is critical to trips. That should be self-evident, but, now that all of us have watched this year's Kentucky Derby 100 times and seen what happened to Ice Box and Lookin At Lucky, it has become all about them and not at all about the Derby winner, Super Saver.

One of the many reasons trainer Todd Pletcher is so good at what he does is that he understands the game from a player's standpoint. When Pletcher explained that Super Saver had the speed and agility to get position and the talent to do something with that inherent advantage, it resonated with me. It is why Affirmed beat Alydar most of the time and why Sunday Silence beat Easy Goer three of four times.

I doubt Super Saver will get the same trip in the Preakness that he did in the Derby, but, given the colt's talent, it is not out of the question. Super Saver was not lucky to win the Derby. The colt and his brilliant rider, Calvin Borel, were simply in position to take advantage of the horse's innate ability.

Colleague Randy Moss asked me this question the day after the Derby: Would I have liked Super Saver if I knew he was going to be sixth after a quarter-mile, six lengths off the lead. My answer was no.

But Borel saw the race differently. He believed he could take the colt off the pace and get him to relax. He thought he could get a colt who had been first after the first two calls of four of his six races while second and third after the first call of his other races, back off the pace. I actually thought Calvin might go for the lead, as the fastest horse closest to the rail. I was wrong. Calvin was right.

Should any of us be surprised Borel had the right idea? He correctly analyzed the rest of the field, let the speed run itself out of the race, hid down on the rail in plain sight again, emerged at the top of the stretch with the lead again, got first run on the closers again, and won again.

Some horses always get good trips and not because they are lucky. Horses with speed and tractability have always been the best bets in this game. That never changes.

I ended up picking Lookin At Lucky because I thought he would get one of those trips, and I thought the whole 1 post thing was overblown. Wrong on both counts.

I gave up on Lookin At Lucky when he got pushed back to 18th after a quarter-mile. Whatever could go wrong in the first 200 yards did go wrong. If the pounding and the encounter with the rail were not bad enough, the amount of slop flying back in the horse's face was amazing, as I watched it from the press box balcony.

Lookin At Lucky was heroic to make a run into the race on the far turn and then another run into superfecta contention in the stretch. That he hit the wall in the final 100 yards was no shock, given his early adventures and his atypical early position.

I don't know that I have seen a horse with Lookin At Lucky's ability find so much trouble in four races out of five. I am starting to wonder if there isn't some innate flaw with the colt's running style. If that style had not been good enough to win three Grade 1 stakes and two Grade 2 stakes, I would probably believe that. But I have to think this is a horse who can still win big races, maybe even the Preakness, if Bob Baffert makes the call for Baltimore.

What happened to Ice Box almost wasn't fair. But traffic issues can happen to deep closers in 20-horse fields on the turn when the field is starting to bunch up as the front-runners retreat and the closers get into the hunt. Still, this was a bit absurd. Clearly, the colt was not tired in those final 100 yards when he flew by what seemed like half the field. Well, maybe Ice Box was rolling while the horses in front were hitting the Derby wall, creating a bit of an illusion. Whatever, it was some effort.

Still, whatever we believe about the horses behind Super Saver, we should not overlook why the Derby winner was the Derby winner.

Super Saver was a colt who had trained extremely well at Churchill, touting himself along with Paddy O'Prado in the 10 days leading up to the Derby. Kudos again to Daily Racing Form's Mike Welsch, who, after spending hours watching the Derby horses train, was all over the horses who finished first and third in the race and explained it in print and on his videos. If there has been a more valuable source of Derby information over the last seven years, I have not come across it. If Welsch says that a Derby horse is doing really well, use that horse. If Welsch says a horse is not doing so well, toss that horse.

Denis of Cork, a colt touted by Welsch, was the key to unlocking the 2008 Derby superfecta. A player believing in Super Saver and Paddy O'Prado might have been able to find a way to this year's six-figure super.

I needed Lookin At Lucky to hit the top four. When it was over, I felt a bit unlucky, but that is simply the nature of the full-field Derby and playing high-risk, high-reward bets like the superfecta.

Of course, this whole thing could be simplified even more. None of us would need to watch the prep races and spend all those hours watching videos. We could just read Welsch's analysis after we learned which horse Calvin Borel was riding. Then, we could structure a much less complex wager, bet with confidence, and head for the windows as the horses crossed the finish line.