Before the running of the Preakness, Todd Pletcher, trainer… (Baltimore Sun photo by Lloyd…)
For two weeks, Todd Pletcher looked for signs that the Kentucky Derby had taken a toll on Super Saver — and found none.
Not until the far turn at Pimlico Race Course on Saturday was there any indication Super Saver didn't have the right stuff to end racing's 32-year Triple Crown drought. And then, when jockey Calvin Borel asked the 3-year-old colt for more and got no response, Pletcher knew.
Two weeks wasn't enough time.
Super Saver became the fifth Derby winner in six years to fail to win the second leg of the Triple Crown when he faded to eighth in the Preakness stretch. Afterward, the four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer said he didn't see this coming.
"No, I didn't," Pletcher said. "But at the same token, I've been in that position, and on the outside everything looks good. They're eating well, they're training well, they're energetic, enthusiastic. But when it comes to crunch time, like at the three-eighths pole when he needed to find more, that's really the only time you find out whether two weeks is enough time. In his case, I just don't think it was."
Pletcher refused to blame the pace — the early fractions were 22.91 and 46.47 — or the trip. Borel, who got a perfect trip on the rail at Churchill Downs two weeks ago on Super Saver, got a similar ride here — a stalker's position two wide behind pacesetter First Dude.
"My horse broke sharp, right where I wanted," said Borel, who predicted a Triple Crown in Louisville. "I let the other horse go, and I was right behind him. … He just wasn't able to get there today. I will win a lot of other races with this horse. He's a good one."
Super Saver was relaxed and running well through the backstretch, waiting to make his move. But coming around the far turn, the colt started to drop back. By the time he hit the stretch, he was eighth and out of the race. Pletcher saw the telltale moment.
"When they went to the far turn … you could see [Borel] squeezed him and was asking him to go get that horse [First Dude] and he just couldn't do it," Pletcher said. "He hung in there. He kept fighting. He tried hard. It was back a little quick for him. Now we've got time to regroup and come back for a big summer.
"We were in a perfect spot. We were stalking a good pace, but we were in the right spot. But we came up empty."
First Dude was passed only by Lookin At Lucky in the stretch and finished a strong second. Jackson Bend, who ran close to the lead all the way around, was third.
Lookin At Lucky finished sixth as the Derby favorite. Super Saver finished eighth as the Preakness favorite.
"He's a champion 2-year-old," Pletcher said of Lookin At Lucky. "He's had some rough trips. He was one of the horses you had to worry about. I was mainly concerned about him and Dublin [fifth] and Paddy O'Prado [sixth] coming out of the Derby."
After nearly a decade of annual Triple Crown threats, racing's most prestigious title seems further away than ever. Six times in eight years between 1997 and 2004, one horse won the first two races of the Triple Crown, only to lose in the Belmont. Only one horse won the first two races in the past six years — Big Brown in 2008 — and he failed miserably at Belmont.
"It's arguably the most difficult thing in sports," Pletcher said. "[But] we'll see one. You've got to do everything right."
While Pletcher remained winless in six starts in the Preakness, he will always have the Derby. And that allowed him a knowing smile as he departed the Pimlico track Saturday.
"I wouldn't trade the Derby for anything," he said. "We got the one we wanted the most. We would have loved to come here and win the Preakness and go to Belmont with a chance to win the Triple Crown. That would be the ultimate challenge. [But] I wouldn't trade that one for any of the other ones."