The backstretch Everyman became the first jockey to win three Derbys in four years when he rode 8-1 shot Super Saver to a 2½-length victory over 11-1 Ice Box Saturday at sloppy Churchill Downs.
For Borel, Derby glory has become a habit. For Pletcher, it was the peak experience of what will be a Hall of Fame career.
"It's joy," Pletcher said. "Everyone said we had one with our name written on it, but I didn't take anything for granted. This feels terrific, and it's still sinking in."
The man called Bo-rail stayed on the inside fence for almost the entire race, just as he did last year with Mine That Bird and in 2007 with Street Sense. "I took the shortest way around, just like my brother taught me," Borel said, referring to trainer Cecil Borel, his mentor.
"I had him [Super Saver] where I wanted," said Borel, who was sixth after a half-mile and fourth after 6 furlongs. "I got him off the pace and he relaxed good. The first time I rode him, I won on the lead, but in the last race , I took him back and learned a lot about him.
"He broke sharp and we had no problems. I had so much horse under me."
Borel made the lead entering the stretch, opened up two lengths at the eighth pole and kept going.
It was Super Saver's first win in three tries this year. He won in the slop last September at Belmont Park and took a stakes in late November at Churchill. The bay son of 2001 Derby winner Maria's Mon paid $18 for his third win in seven starts after running 1¼ miles in 2:04.45. He earned $1,425,200 for owner-breeder WinStar Farm.
Paddy O'Prado was third, a neck farther back, and Make Music for Me ran fourth. Noble's Promise, who led by 1½ after a mile, was fifth.
Lookin At Lucky broke well from the rail but was jammed back to 18th after a furlong. He never was a factor but rallied for sixth. He was the highest-priced Derby favorite at 6.30-1, breaking Harlan's Holiday's record of 6-1 in 2002. "I quit watching 'Lucky' after the first bump," trainer Bob Baffert said. "He was done."
Sidney's Candy broke quickly from post 20 and got good position in the quarter-mile run to the first turn. He raced second behind Conveyance through hot fractions of :22.63, :46.16, 1:10.58 and 1:37.65 before retreating to 17th.
It was fitting that the first Saturday of May happened to fall on May Day, the universal distress signal, because the craziness at Derby 136 was over the top even for America's no-holds-barred rite of spring. For the second consecutive year, rain turned the track into slop. Seventeen horses went off at double-digit odds, all except Lookin At Lucky, Super Saver and Sidney's Candy (9-1).
Pletcher saddled four horses, with Mission Impazible ninth, the filly Devil May Care 10th and Discreetly Mine 13th. So now Pletcher is 1-for-28 and ecstatic, thanks to the likable guy from Catahoula, La. "Calvin is a great rider anywhere," Pletcher said, "but at Churchill, he's five lengths better."
Like Barry Bonds and Terrell Owens, who were among the crowd of 155,804, Pletcher had done just about everything but win the big one.
"It's the race I want to win more than any other," he told NBC's Mike Battaglia on the walk from the backstretch to the paddock. "But I'm not going to base the success of my career on this one race. But until we win it, I'm going to have to answer those questions."