To most people, the 136th Kentucky Derby looked like utter chaos. Horses were struggling to cope with the sloppy track and getting bumped, jostled and blocked at every stage of the race. After a fast early pace, the leaders were stopping so abruptly that they presented obstacles to all the runners behind them.
But Calvin Borel took the tumult in his stride - and so did Super Saver, the horse he rode to his third victory in the last four derbies. Borel approached this derby, like most races, with a clarity of purpose that has helped make him America's most recognised jockey. His plan was simple: get Super Saver to the rail and stay there as long as he could. Borel's ride was the decisive element of the race; few knowledgeable observers would argue that Super Saver won because he is more talented than all of rivals.
Borel's victory was not a dramatic one like his daring, rail-skimming ride on Mine That Bird last year, or his charge from 19th place on Street Sense in 2007, because everything seemed to fall neatly into place for him this time. Super Saver had been fortunate to draw post position four, with three relatively slow horses inside him and a battalion of speedsters to the outside. Borel made no secret of his plan; he would get his position on the rail and then let the other speed horses zip ahead of him if their jockeys were bent on going fast.
He was confident that Super Saver - who once had looked like a one-dimensional speedster, too - was tractable enough to sit behind the leaders. He never wavered from his plan, even when the rain fell on Saturday and many observers maintained that the rail at Churchill Downs was the worst part of the track. Some jockeys said the same thing. But Borel won two races on Saturday's card before the Derby by staying on the inside, and he saw no reason to stray from his philosophy.
Conveyance shot to the lead in the Derby with Sidney's Candy pressing him. Borel positioned Super Saver on the rail, a few lengths behind the pacesetters, in perfect striking position. "I had him where I wanted," Borel said. When the leaders collapsed, Borel went around the retreating Conveyance, moved back to the rail and passed Noble's Promise, who had briefly inherited the lead. Super Saver could not have had a cleaner trip.
Many other horses had problems. Looking At Lucky, the favourite, was bumped hard early and never got into contention thereafter. Third-place Paddy O'Prado ran into traffic in the stretch and Kent Desormeaux, his jockey, said: "If I got through, I probably would have won." But it was Jose Lezcano, who finished second on Ice Box, who had the most trouble of all. After running next-to-last for six furlongs, the colt started to accelerate and had moved past several horses when Lezcano saw Mission Impazible directly in front of him. Mission Impazible took a stride toward the rail, and Lezcano decided to go outside.
Mission Impazible immediately moved back outside. If Lezcano had held his inside position a moment longer, he might have had a relatively clear path to victory, but with horses strung across the track in front of him, the 25-year-old's derby turned into a nightmare. When Ice Box finally had clear sailing, he outkicked everybody else. By then, it was too late. * The Washington Post