Super Saver, ridden by exercise rider Kevin Willey, runs through… (Getty Images )
Calvin Borel isn't particularly comfortable playing the role of braggart.
But Borel, even at age 43, is an excitable person, easily swept up by the surging tide that is history. And so minutes after the Kentucky Derby, when NBC shoved a microphone in his face, he boasted that he was going to do it. He was going to win the Triple Crown this year aboard Super Saver.
He knows, now that the 135th running of the Preakness at Pimlico Race Course has arrived, that it's a prediction that rubbed some people the wrong way. But it's also the kind of statement there's no sense in retracting. The man who said it, in fact, is happy to own it.
"I'm always confident in my horse," said Borel, who won the Preakness last year aboard Rachel Alexandra. "I maybe say things that I shouldn't — that I'm going to win. I don't know if people understand, but if you're going to ride, why don't you want to win it? C'mon. That's me. I'm coming here to win the race."
Borel is confident Super Saver is up to the challenge, as is trainer Todd Pletcher.
"I want him up there thinking that," Pletcher said. "We think we can win. And I'd much rather he feel that way than feel anxious about it."
But the race today is a chance to prove to the rest of the horse racing world that Super Saver warranted that kind of swagger. Because many still aren't totally sold on the Kentucky Derby winner. Is he a true champion peaking at the right time? Or is he a mudder who got the perfect trip and the perfect ride at Churchill Downs? That fact that he's just a 5-2 morning-line favorite, with Lookin At Lucky close behind at 3-1, indicates there are still plenty of doubts about his potential greatness.
Pletcher understands the skepticism. Super Saver had flown under the radar for most of this past year while Lookin At Lucky and Eskendereya — another one of Pletcher's horses, who suffered an injury right before the Derby — grabbed Derby prep victories and headlines. But colts tend to peak at different times, Pletcher said. Super Saver isn't the biggest horse. In fact, he looks almost small compared with Aikenite, his stablemate. But he's the kind of horse who can breeze around the track and return to the barn without even breathing hard.
"He's just continued to improve," Pletcher said. "He's gotten more professional in the way he runs. He's a colt that's putting it all together at the right time. ... I think he has what a lot of good athletes have — natural stamina. The good thing with him is he's got tactical speed to go along with it. That's a dangerous combination."
You can make a compelling case, however, that Super Saver needs Lookin At Lucky to run well in the Preakness, if only to prove he can beat a top horse when they're both at the top of their game. Lookin At Lucky never had much of a chance in the Derby after he drew the inside rail at the post-position draw, getting bounced around twice early in the race. Trainer Bob Baffert said later that he was so despondent watching, he was hoping jockey Garrett Gomez would just pull the horse up.
"If it would have been a boxing match, it would have been over in the first round," Baffert said. "But those things happen. That's what the Derby is."
Neither Super Saver nor Lookin At Lucky will have to hunt to find the other. They drew side-by-side post positions, with Super Saver in No.8 and Lookin At Lucky in No.7. But Lookin At Lucky will have a different rider guiding him. After several rough trips, Baffert decided to ditch Gomez, the country's leading rider, and give the mount to 25-year-old Martin Garcia, a talented but inexperienced rider compared with Gomez. This will be Garcia's first Triple Crown race. "He knows the horse really well," Baffert said of Garcia. "He actually knows him better than Garrett because he's been on him more times. We just needed something to change our luck."
There is also a good chance a less talented but fresher horse could spoil Super Saver's party. There are seven horses in the field that did not run in the Derby: Caracortado (10-1), Pleasant Prince (20-1), Aikenite (20-1), Schoolyard Dreams (15-1), Northern Giant (30-1), First Dude (20-1) and Yawanna Twist (30-1). The unpredictable nature of the Preakness, and the fact that Super Saver doesn't intimidate anyone, have more than a few trainers convinced they have a shot.
"I was only afraid of Eskendereya," said Derek Ryan, trainer of Schoolyard Dreams. "I think I can beat any of the rest of them."
No one should rule out Dublin either, because he's trained by D.Wayne Lukas, who has won more Preaknesses (five) than anyone else alive. Even at age 74, Lukas is still hungry to prove himself.
"There isn't anybody else here with five Preaknesses," he said. "Why would you get up at 3:30 every day of your life if you didn't keep score? I want No.6 here."