Kentucky Derby

Long-awaited victory 'a special feeling'

LOUISVILLE — Todd Pletcher had just won the Kentucky Derby, and he was looking down at his hands like he'd lost the race again.

He had a far-off look of dejection, the same one he's had so many times outside his barn on the backside of Churchill Downs.

The trainer who had lost the Kentucky Derby 24 times coming into Saturday looked like it was now 0-for-28.

It was almost as if Super Saver with Calvin Borel aboard had never crossed the finish line first to give the trainer the biggest victory of his storied career.

Pletcher's face finally changed when he was introduced as the "Kentucky Derby winning trainer" by the announcer at the post-race news conference.

Pletcher smiled a big smile.

But even that lasted only a few short seconds.

"It's a special feeling," Pletcher said. "But I try to take my wins and losses the same way. I'm a no better trainer today than I was yesterday. I'm no better than I was when I woke up this morning."

Those qualities are what drew Super Saver's connections to Pletcher in the first place.

"He's humble, and he lets his horses do the talking," said Elliott Walden, a longtime trainer and the racing manager for Super Saver's WinStar Farm. "He's one of the greatest people in the world for a guy that's had as much success as he's had.

"I love his hard work. Nobody beats him to the barn in the morning."

Those qualities are things he got from his parents.

Talking about them is the only time Pletcher's even attitude seemed to shift Saturday night in front of the bright lights and media at Churchill Downs.

It meant something to his father, J.J. Pletcher, a horseman himself, and his mother, Jerrie, to get to see their son win the Kentucky Derby.

"The one thing I wanted to do was win it while my parents were still around to see it," Pletcher said. "They're both in their 70s, and I didn't want to let that opportunity get away."

His mother told him quietly after the race that it was the greatest day of her life.

If it was for Pletcher, it was hard to tell.

He told reporters afterward that he planned to be at his barn at the usual time on Sunday morning.

He didn't seem likely to celebrate deep into the night.

"Now that it's happened, I don't know what to feel or say," Pletcher said. "I wish I could wax poetic and tell you exactly how I feel, but it's all still soaking in."

Pletcher talked about wanting to see the race replay — not to bask in the glow of his victory — but to get a clear view of the trips of his other three horses: Discreetly Mine (13th), Mission Impazible (ninth) and the filly Devil May Care (10th).

Even though he tried to be, the 42-year-old father of three wasn't completely immune to the pressures of being 0-for-24 coming into the Derby.

He admitted he watched the entire race alone in a lounge near the track because he "needed to change something up."

But he doesn't want to change too much.

"Hopefully we can just keep doing things the right way."

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