Horses

Super Saver can erase doubts at Haskell

Regardless of what Super Saver does the rest of his days on the track, his résumé will always bear the one accomplishment most treasured in the Thoroughbred industry.

His 21/2-length win in this year's Kentucky Derby forever earned the son of Maria's Mon a place in racing history, but he hasn't been recognized as the best 3-year-old.

There is a saying that you're only as good as your last race. And, Classic win or not, Super Saver's last impression is the one hanging over him as he prepares to face a field of seven top challengers in Sunday's $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.

Two weeks after giving owner WinStar Farm and trainer Todd Pletcher their first Derby victories, Super Saver suffered the worst loss of his eight-race career when he finished eighth, beaten by 113/4 lengths by champion and Haskell morning-line favorite Lookin At Lucky in the Preakness Stakes.

That made it easy for some to dismiss Super Saver's Derby win as the result of an off track in his favor and another brilliant ride by Calvin Borel.

His connections admit that Sunday's effort will be key to earning divisional honors at year's end, but they aren't buying the notion that this weekend's 11⁄8-mile test is make-or-break for Super Saver.

"I feel like any time you're the Kentucky Derby winner, you have proved a lot," said Elliott Walden, vice president and racing manager for WinStar Farm. "I think his form speaks for itself. Now, having said that, the last time he ran, he didn't run well, so we want to get back on track and finish the year strong, but I don't think he has to prove any more than any of the other horses in there.

"Lookin At Lucky and Super Saver have both won one, and so it'll be interesting to see what happens Sunday."

What happened to Super Saver during the Preakness is unclear, but there are some explanations his connections can point to.

It was Super Saver's third race in five weeks, which might have taken more of a toll on the compact colt than he indicated.

"So many times, when you prepare a horse for a race ... you look for signs that they are doing OK, whether their appetite is good and their energy level on the racetrack," said Walden, who added that Super Saver would ship from Saratoga to Monmouth the morning of the Haskell. "What's apparent a lot of times is that those signs, even though they are telltale signs for you in a negative sense, they don't necessarily mean that you're going to have a positive experience running a horse that quickly.

"Lots of times, it's not until the race do you see that letdown from an energy standpoint, and that is kind of what we saw at Pimlico. He just really didn't run his race and looked tired."

Outside of the Derby itself, this year's Haskell field might be the best assembly of 3-year-olds the sport will see this season. It includes Derby runner-up Ice Box, Preakness runner-up First Dude and the rapidly improving Trappe Shot.

The good news for Super Saver's camp is that the last time he faced this daunting a test, he threw down some of the best pre-race works of his life coming into it.

Pletcher and Co. said they've seen the same kind of evidence in the colt's most recent moves at Saratoga.

"I know Todd made the comment to me that the work he did last Sunday week was the best work he'd ever seen him put in," Walden said. "He's always been a solid workhorse, but that work the Sunday prior was a completely focused workout where he had his workmate at any point.

"We're looking for the horse that won the Kentucky Derby to show up on Sunday."

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