Kentucky Derby

If it's Borel, the rider counts most

LOUISVILLE — Oh yeah, to win the Kentucky Derby you need the right horse.

They may not be saying that any more.

Here's what they need to say: You need the right rider.

You need one rider.

You need Calvin Borel.

Come on, this is ridiculous, the way the Louisville legend has now won three of the last four runs for the roses. He guided the favorite Street Sense to victory in 2007, and the longshot Mine That Bird in 2009, and now on Saturday he guided the magnificent mudder Super Saver across the wire first in the 136th Kentucky Derby.

All that money spent on yearlings in all those sales rings, all that training, all those prep races, all that meticulous planning and praying and preparing in the name of realizing that Kentucky Derby dream ...

So many do all that. But all they need to do is to get a Derby horse and contract Calvin to ride.

Ask trainer Todd Pletcher. He's the best trainer in the business, with multiple Eclipse award and Grade I trophies sitting on his mantle.

Yet, as had been repeated ad nauseam, Pletcher was 0-for-24 in the Derby, sending 24 different horses to starting gate, over nine years, using 13 jockeys.

None of those 13 was Calvin Borel.

"He is fearless," said Bob Baffert, the trainer of the favorite, Lookin At Lucky, who was pinched at the start from the No. 1 post and never had a chance. "You have good luck and bad luck and I've been lucky to win this race and other guys have had bad luck."

Pletcher was one of those bad-luck guys, especially last Sunday when he was forced to pull the star of his barn, Eskenderya, out of the race because of injury.

"A lot of times," said Pletcher, "things work out for a reason."

Ask the group behind WinStar, the gorgeous 1,450-acre farm in Woodford County owned by Bill Casner and Kenny Troutt, and run by Doug Cauthen. WinStar's been trying to produce a Derby winner, since back in 1998 when it was involved with the Prestonwood Farm group that owned Victory Gallop, who finished second to Real Quiet.

WinStar came close in 2006 with Bluegrass Cat, who finished second to Barbaro. It owned Colonel John, who ran sixth in the 2008 Derby, but went on to win the Travers.

None of those horses was ridden by Calvin Borel.

Ask Elliott Walden, the former trainer who is now WinStar's racing manager. In back-to-back years, Walden finished runner-up in the Derby, first with Victory Gallop in 1998, and then with Menifee in 1999. Alex Solis rode Victory Gallop. Pat Day rode Menifee.

Neither rider was Calvin Borel.

"Elliott is the one who suggested that we put Calvin on this horse," said Pletcher after the win.

Even the 155,804 that braved the elements at Churchill on Saturday, knew what to do. They looked at Super Saver's past performances, his obvious love of the sloppy conditions (won a maiden special weight at Belmont by 7 lengths in the slop as a 2-year-old), his obvious affinity for the track (won the Kentucky Juvenile Cup last November) and, oh yes, the rider. After considering what looked like a winning combination on paper, they bet the son of Maria's Mon down from the 15-1 morning line to 8-1 at post time.

Post-race, there was a lot of talk about teamwork. That make sense, considering the team that WinStar has put together, starting at the top with Casner and Troutt, right on down through Cauthen and Walden, and Pletcher, the deserving winner who finally got that monkey off is back.

"It means everything in the world," said Borel when asked how special it was to be the rider on Pletcher's first Derby winner. "I know what that feeling is like."

But, as always, there's always one essential part of that team. Right?

"You gotta have the horse," said Borel.

No, these days, when it comes to the Kentucky Derby, you gotta have the rider.