Super Saver and Me

Pardon the self indulgence that follows, but it is being used in good part to point out how someone can easily go astray on the Kentucky Derby Trail - namely me. Also, I will provide solid reasons why Super Saver has as good a shot to sweep the Triple Crown as anyone in recent years. As for my journey to Egomania, I know I am diving into water way over my head, so humor me. My intentions will be explained later.

It all started last October when I wrote the following about Super Saver after his fourth-place finish in the Champagne Stakes (gr. I):

"Super Saver, despite finishing fourth in the Champagne, turned in a gutsy effort after setting a fast pace, getting passed turning for home, and battling back to be beaten only two lengths for the win and a nose for third. And he did this without changing leads. By Maria's Mon, out of an A.P. Indy mare, he's only going to keep getting better the longer he goes. He's one to watch out for."

Shortly after, when discussing Todd Pletcher's army of 3-year-olds, I wrote:

"Super Saver, owned by WinStar Farm, is a son of Maria's Mon, sire of Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos . His dam, Supercharger, is a Phipps-bred full-sister (by A.P. Indy  ) to major stakes horses Girolamo, Daydreaming, and Accelerator, as well as She's a Winner, dam of Bluegrass Cat. Supercharger's dam, Get Lucky, a graded stakes winner by Mr. Prospector, out of Beldame (gr. I) winner Dance Number, is a full sister to Travers (gr. I) and Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) winner Rhythm.

Dance Number's dam is the great Numbered Account, making her a half-sister to multiple graded stakes winner Private Account, sire of Personal Ensign. In continuing with the Best of Phipps, Super Saver is inbred three times to Hall of Famer and Horse of the Year Buckpasser.

It doesn't get any better than this, and this is another colt who will be heard from either this fall or definitely next spring."

Then, on Dec. 8, I came up with my first Derby Dozen list, the first time I had compiled one this early.

Early Derby Dozen

1-- Super Saver -- Talented, fast, outstanding pedigree; big score over the Churchill Downs track. Just needs to show he can rate off the pace.
 

2-- Lookin at Lucky -- His second in the BC Juvenile may have been the best performance of the year by a 2-year-old. His future is limitless.
 

3-- Buddy's Saint -- Beautiful-striding colt, push-button acceleration, bred to run all day. Needs to fill into his frame a little more.
 

4-- William's Kitten -- Spectacular move to win the off-the-turf Sunday Silence Stakes; ran big in Ky. Jockey Club and has two excellent efforts on dirt. Distance should be no problem.
 

5-- Dublin -- Champagne can be excused if he runs back to his Hopeful form.
 

6-- American Lion - He's got the looks and the pedigree, but he still has some learning to do.

I soon began to correspond with Calvin Borel's wife Lisa about Super Saver when Borel had an opportunity to ride the colt throughout the Derby trail and Lisa asked me what I thought of him. I won't go into detail regarding our initial correspondence, only to say that it gave me a personal connection with the horse. Lisa went on to provide me with updates and told me Calvin's initial feelings about Super Saver, while addressing my only concern about the horse - his ability, or inability, to rate. Both WinStar and Todd Pletcher felt he was the least likely to rate among their top 3-year-olds. I mentioned this ad nauseam in my future Derby Dozen comments. I also had slight concerns about him being sent to the farm during the winter, but was reassured by those at WinStar that he was perfectly sound and was there just for some R & R. But as we headed into the second week of March, Super Saver still hadn't run, so I had no idea what to do with him on the Derby Dozen.

Here are some excerpts from my earlier conversations with Lisa (which I am using with her blessing and encouragement):

"Hey Steve, just wanted to let you know that Calvin kept the mount on Super Saver -- we are really excited. Todd says he'll run at Gulfstream this winter at some point... Just thought I'd let you know! The more we watched his race the more Calvin got excited about him- he had never sat on him and didn't know what to expect. And Todd said he's been having problems switching leads, just being a green two year old. But he didn't have any problems during the race and Calvin liked the way he finished up despite setting those risky fractions... But the horse is funny about swapping his leads properly, and when Boo watched his previous races he noticed the jock had a pretty tight hold on him and thought that might have something to do with it,  so he just broke and pitched him his head, with the idea the race would be just a learning experience for the horse; to get him to correctly swap leads, etc. And when he turned for home and had way more in the tank than he thought, he came back pretty impressed. I made sure to make him watch the race a few more times a couple days later after you sent me that message and he called his agent and asked him to call Todd for a status report on the horse. Todd says he's doing great and is Calvin's horse if he wants to ride him!"

                                                                      ****

"Hey Steve, Will definitely keep you updated on Super Saver. Calvin doesn't think he will have too much problem rating, just wanted to pitch him his head to see if it helped him swap leads easier. Next time he will most likely try to get him to relax and settle in a bit better. He's still really green, but that makes it even more exciting, showing so much raw potential."

Well, Calvin was right. Super Saver learned how to switch leads, and he did get him to rate. All the questions had been answered. Despite two narrow defeats, he looked to be coming into the Derby is great shape, but was overshadowed by stablemate Eskendereya, the overwhelming early Derby favorite who looked to be a superstar in the making. Then Eskendereya was withdrawn with an injury the day after Super Saver turned in a sneaky-good work a week before the Derby. I wrote on two occasions:

"Super Saver did everything on his own, cutting the corner beautifully turning for home, and was striding out nicely at the end. His gallop-out was particularly strong."

"The vibes are beginning to intensify for Super Saver after an excellent work Saturday with Calvin Borel up that went virtually unnoticed. But the son of Maria's Mon did everything the right way and has maintained a high energy level since."

What most people failed to notice was the way Borel "schooled" Super Saver by hugging the rail turning for home, the same way he schooled Street Sense in his Derby works. By working him in that manner, it prepared the colt for his upcoming adventurous trip on the "Borel Trail," where none dare to tread.

So, comes Derby Day, and Super Saver is THE FAVORITE, eventually going off as second choice to Lookin at Lucky. As a very minimal bettor, that was too low for me, so I nixed my win bets and played him in several exactas and trifectas. I had him with Paddy O'Prado, but like an idiot, I left out Ice Box (whose work I loved as well), because his odds also were too low, as third choice at the time. I thought it would be difficult for him as a little horse to weave his way through the entire field on that horrible track. So what happens? He comes from 19th to beat out Paddy O'Prado by a neck, and Make Music For Me, another small horse, comes from 20th to finish fourth. So much for small, deep closers on a sloppy track.

All in all, it was a very satisfying Derby, because of the road getting there with Super Saver. A betting faux pas eventually fades away, but the story behind the race remains forever. And what's a Derby without a good "what if" story?

It gave me great satisfaction at least when Lisa brought up our early conversations as soon as she saw me while heading to the winner's circle.

She later wrote: "You had him pegged all along!!! You even stated, if we could get him to relax it would be very very hard to beat him -- you hit it dead upside the head! Rejoice, that is a very very hard thing to do -- pick the Derby winner in late November.

"It is so unique that a turf writer would have a hand in pairing a horse and rider together for the Kentucky Derby - it's a story that deserves to be told." 

OK, Lisa, you talked me into it. I just told it. And now I'm sure I will be ripped to shreds, and deservedly so. But, what the heck, I'm tough; I can take it (I really can't, I'm just saying that). The truth is, (Joan, close your eyes and please don't read the rest of this sentence) Lisa's words meant more to me than hitting the trifecta. It's all because of that one-time dream of mine to be a bloodstock agent and going out and finding potential Derby horses early in their career. So, in some warped way, I was living out a fantasy. And, on the other end, I also wanted to show the connection between Borel and Super Saver. This wasn't simply a case of a rider being given a mount. Borel put a lot of work and time into getting to know this horse. And it paid off.

OK, enough of this. My lips are swollen from tooting my own horn.

It's time to look ahead. Almost every year, people start envisioning the Derby hero as the next Triple Crown winner. After 32 years and several near-hits, why not?

What makes Super Saver such an appealing Triple Crown possibility is that, as mentioned earlier, he now has no weaknesses...no question marks. I have always maintained the belief that the next Triple Crown winner will be one who achieved big things at 2 in top-class races while building a solid early foundation. Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed all ran in the Champagne, with Big Red and Affirmed winning stakes after the Champagne. Super Saver ran in the Champagne and won the Kentucky Jockey Club after the Champagne.

So, Super Saver has the 2-year-old foundation and class; he has the pedigree; he now has the running style (he can be on the lead, just off the lead, or eight lengths back); he has the trainer and the jockey; he's won big at Belmont; he loves an off track just in case; and his Beyer speed figures have made a steady progression.

Am I stating that Super Saver will sweep the Triple Crown? Of course not. We've all been down this road too many times before. But at this point, very few Derby winners have looked this solid. But you know me and favorites. Whatever rooting interest I might have in Super Saver, I've already got my eye on a couple of longshots.

As we continue through the Triple Crown trail, I promise to keep my mouth shut. Look at it this way: we're all entitled to make a fool of ourselves at least once. So be gentle. 

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