BALTIMORE - Nine Preakness contenders arrived together Wednesday afternoon on Pimlico's backstretch, and none looked as good as Super Saver.
Even after being cooped up for more than four hours on a plane and a van, the rangy bay colt was bouncing as he was led to stall 40, the stakes barn's traditional spot for the Kentucky Derby winner.
"His energy level has been great, and we really like the way he's been training,'' trainer Todd Pletcher said. "From everything we can see, he's doing exceptionally well. This horse has a great mind-set. He shipped in very well and is taking everything in stride.
"I think he's got a big chance to win. I wouldn't trade places with anyone, especially going to Pimlico and backing up a little bit in distance.''
Back in Louisville, jockey Calvin Borel echoed Pletcher's optimism. A 3-furlong workout in 36.60 seconds Monday made Borel even more confident. "It was real good,'' he said. "He switched leads on [cue]. You couldn't ask for better, I don't think.''
Borel predicted a Triple Crown minutes after crossing the wire at Churchill Downs. He's been burned by guarantees - Street Sense in the 2007 Preakness, Mine That Bird in last year's Belmont - so he's toned down the rhetoric but hasn't changed his mind.
"We've got [seven] new shooters, but I don't think they have the class this horse has,'' said the man who won last year's Preakness on Rachel Alexandra. "What I like about this colt is he's peaking. He's lightly raced, and I think that's a big plus.''
Super Saver won the Derby by 2½ lengths, is fresh, fit and should go off at about 2-1 late Saturday afternoon. What's a horseplayer to do? Try to beat him, of course.
Although seven of the last 13 Derby winners repeated in Baltimore, the contrarian gene in most gamblers' DNA usually seeks other options. One is the beaten Derby favorite, Lookin At Lucky. Last year's 2-year-old champion couldn't have had a worse start on the first Saturday in May, when he was slammed twice early and lost all chance. "If it had been a boxing match,'' Bob Baffert said, "it would have been stopped in the first round.''
After Garrett Gomez's second consecutive brutal trip on the misnamed Lookin At Lucky, Baffert switched to Martin Garcia. The 25-year-old Mexican rider has teamed with Baffert for seven stakes wins this year. "We're trying to do something different to get the luck changed here,'' Baffert said. "If we're going to beat Super Saver, we need something to happen.''
He hopes the Preakness rookie can work out the good trip for which "Lucky'' is overdue. "[Garcia] is still young, and he's not a completely polished rider, but he's getting there,'' Baffert said. "He's a raw talent who's riding with a lot of confidence right now. I've been clicking with him really well lately. Everywhere I send him, he wins.''
If Super Saver regresses or encounters the traffic problems he avoided in the Derby, maybe Lookin At Lucky can take him down. Or maybe it will be 15-1 Schoolyard Dreams, who finished ahead of Super Saver on March 13 in the Tampa Bay Derby.
As one of Borel's mentors, 74-year-old Virgil "Yu Yu'' Blanchard, likes to say in his thick Cajun accent: "A horse is a horse, and anything can happen.''