DERBY CHAMP ENTERS WITHOUT MUCH FANFARE
It’s time to get your Preak on! Two weeks after he won the roses with a 21/2-length victory in the Kentucky Derby, Super Saver guns for the black-eyed Susans in today’s 135th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico.
If the rangy bay son of Maria’s Mon, trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Calvin Borel, can ace Old Hilltop’s Grade 1,
$1 million classic at a mile-and-three-sixteenths, he will head to New York for the June 5 Belmont Stakes. There, a blanket of white carnations is the prize, along with Super Saver’s potential coronation as the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
“I think the colt is peaking at the right time, and it’s a big plus,” Borel said. “I love his chances. God willing, he’s a colt that will take us all the way. I’d love to win the Triple Crown.”
Earlier this spring, Pletcher had dreams of sweeping the Triple Crown — with Eskendereya, the Wood Memorial winner who was withdrawn before the Derby and retired because of a leg injury. Now his hopes rest with the colt whose initials could stand for “Second Stringer.”
“We’ve been really pleased with the way he’s trained since the Derby,” said Pletcher, 0-for-4 in the Preakness. “Everything he’s showing us is very good, very positive. He’s a very nifty, handy horse, a pretty cool horse to be around. He’s got a great mindset.”
But will the Preakness be Super Saver’s weakness?
Unlike other Derby winners over the past decade like Fusaichi Pegasus, Smarty Jones, the ill-fated Barbaro and Big Brown, Super Saver did not arrive at Pimlico hailed as thoroughbred racing’s new superstar. He certainly isn’t scaring anyone away. Four of the horses he beat in the Derby are here to face him again, along with seven “new shooters” to the Triple Crown trail.
In yesterday’s early betting, Super Saver and Lookin At Lucky were co-favorites at 9-5.
“You’ve got some fresh faces that two weeks ago weren’t in the top 20 [to make the Derby],” Pletcher said. “They could show up and pull an upset. But the horses we’re most concerned about are coming out of the Derby.”
Relishing the sloppy track on Derby Day, Super Saver got a perfect, rail-skimming trip at Churchill Downs. The same can’t be said for several of his opponents, especially Lookin At Lucky, who got sawed off early in the Derby as the 6-1 favorite, losing any chance, but still rallied from 18th to finish sixth.
“I quit watching him after the first bump,” trainer Bob Baffert said.
That was the 2-year-old champ’s third straight rough trip. Looking to change his luck and get some “mojo,” Baffert switched jockeys from veteran Garrett Gomez to young Martin Garcia.
“[Garcia] knows the horse really well because he’s worked him a lot,” said Baffert, who will map out a game plan before the race. Don’t be surprised if he tells Garcia to dog Super Saver every step of the way.
Gomez, a two-time Eclipse Award winner as the nation’s top jockey, immediately was picked up by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas to ride Dublin, seventh in the Derby under Terry Thompson.
“It was a no-brainer,” Lukas said. “You don’t leave Peyton Manning in the locker room.”
The rider switch recalls the 1996 Preakness, when Lukas named Jerry Bailey to replace Pat Day as the rider of Prince of Thieves. Day paid Lukas back by winning the Preakness for Nick Zito aboard Louis Quatorze, with Prince of Thieves seventh.
“Sometimes they ride a little harder when they get their egos bruised,” said Lukas, who’s won five Preaknesses and 13 Triple Crown races overall.
by Ed Fountaine
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