By JOHN P. WISE
One Great Season
It seemed like a no-brainer, really.
Whether you value a horse's bloodlines, his past finishes or recent works on the local track, something about a Super Saver win in Saturday's Kentucky Derby 136 was an easy call.
Remember how you used to bet $2 across the board whenever Pat Day raced? You spent $6 to get $10.80 back, just so you could say you cashed in a winning ticket. Never mind the absence of value; you merely wanted to boast.
But that's what's starting to happen with jockey Calvin Borel, except there are actually some flavorful odds with him still. The increasingly popular Cajun eventually found the rail and rode it to his third Derby win in the last four events, much to the delight of a damp assembly of race fans at historic Churchill Downs.
Borel steered Street Sense to victory on a wet track in 2007 and Mine That Bird over the slop just last year. He's the first Derby jockey to win three of four.
As impressive as the feat is, the bigger story is trainer Todd Pletcher, whose first Derby win arrives after many disappointments.
Highly decorated, Pletcher had started 24 Derby horses before Saturday and entered four more in Derby 136. The 28th time was the charm for Pletcher, who for the first time in 10 Derbys in which he had at least one horse running, watched the race on a television in the horseman's lounge.
One guy was long overdue. Another has the hot hand at Churchill. Put them together, throw in a capable horse like Super Saver and do like I did: return to the betting window to claim your winnings.
Here are some notes from Derby Day:
+ I was a little sluggish from shooting the Barnstable Brown Gala the night before (pictures coming soon), and, coupled with the weather early Saturday, I didn't exactly hustle out to Churchill. I got out there at about 3 p.m. and sat in the media lounge for at least an hour before heading out to do some work.
+ After parking in the media lot and boarding the media shuttle bus, two outgoing college kids -- obviously not media -- started to chat me up. Turns out one is the daughter of one of Louisville's most recognized anchors who I know pretty well. This fact comes back into play later.
+ I went up the rail after about 5:30 p.m. and claimed my familiar spot on the turn. Typically I like to shoot that wide shot as the horses approach, getting those picturesque twin spires into the shot. But now that Churchill has lights all over the place, that shot will never be the same, so my plan was to zoom in tight on the horses as they hit the turn.
+ Usually still shooters are an arrogant and unfriendly bunch, but a very cool NBC photographer helped me out with some camera advice. For some reason my Canon 50D, though set on AI Servo continuous, wasn't firing as rapidly as it was supposed to. He assured me I wasn't doing anything wrong, so I just flipped the switch to the auto speed setting. Karma came back around for that guy, who told me after Super Saver's win that he'd just won a grand.
+ The racing gods were clearly at work on Saturday. The post parade began and as usual, the crowd sang "My Old Kentucky Home (video coming soon)," but the gray skies above started to loosen just slightly enough to let some rays of sunshine slip through. The additional light was a welcome relief to a photographer stuck on auto mode.
+ I was still a little sluggish after the Derby, when I found myself in the paddock as the horses for the next race were being walked. The No. 4 horse -- Super Saver was No. 4 in the Derby -- was acting a little ornery. A guy next to me warned anyone around us who wasn't paying attention to keep an eye out for No. 4, who was bringing his dramatics toward us. I replied, "Sheesh, you win one Derby and suddenly you think you own the paddock," in reference to No. 4, for some dumb reason thinking it was Super Saver. I'm an idiot.
+ Got back to the media shuttle bus and there again were the two college kids, this time very heavily lubricated. The daughter and her male friend once again climbed their way onto the bus and stuck out like two sore thumbs. The kid tried to open the window next to the seat in front of him, and a female journalist told him to stop. TV anchorwoman's daughter then yelled, "Don't get salty, bitch," fueling a 10-minute shouting match that was very entertaining. The journalist's friend was a gay man, and it took only about a minute or two before the college kid started in with "gerbil" and "hamster" jokes. I finally grabbed anchorwoman's daughter by the arm and told her to sit down because "the more you talk, the worse this gets." She sat back down and fell asleep within a minute or two. She was wasted.
+ But her male drinking buddy took the obnoxiousness in a new direction. I applaud him for expressing his curiosity about Korean culture, as the three men sitting around him were journalists from Seoul. But I couldn't help but overhear him trying, a few minutes after the shouting match ended as traffic continued to crawl, to explain to the foreign journalists that Americans enjoy the Dirty Sanchez, the Rusty Trombone and an occasional Hot Carl just as much as anybody.