Commentary

One leg at a time

Updated: May 3, 2010, 4:03 PM ET
By Paul Moran | Special to ESPN.com

It was only a matter of time until a horse trained by Todd Pletcher won a Kentucky Derby, and the flawless, almost inspired ride contributed by Calvin Borel astride Super Saver on Saturday will forever be preserved on the replay from the overhead camera. The people who run the National Museum of Racing should put it on a loop and play it continuously, year-round, along with the more-dramatic Derby-winning rides he put up on Street Sense and Mine That Bird.

Until Super Saver dispersed those who doubted his potential to stay 10 furlongs on Saturday, he appeared to be a miler-type, a face in a crowded frame that needs the lead and was unlikely to find his way there in the presence of faster, if no less questionable, horses. He broke his maiden on a sloppy track at Belmont Park last autumn while making the pace from the break. He led at every pole when he won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs in November. But he had been defeated after making the early pace in the Tampa Bay Derby and lost a battle with Line of David in the Arkansas Derby. Despite having an established affinity for both moisture underfoot and the surface at Churchill Downs, none of this really translated to a stalking, just-off-the-suicidal-pace victory in the Kentucky Derby, at least to us of little faith who noted that only once had Super Saver passed a horse during race -- in his career debut last summer at Saratoga, when he advanced from fourth to finish second behind Discreetly Mine, the longest among many long shots on Saturday.

The Derby chart footnote reads like Stephen King's take on a horse race. The trouble during two minutes, four seconds and change in Kentucky resembled a horse-racing war zone, and Super Saver was spent while surviving a jaw-dropping late rally by runner-up Ice Box, whose trip was right out of "Friday the 13th." Unquestionably, Borel, who despite little formal education has a clear understanding of geometry, was the difference.

Super Saver is indeed an appealing and popular Derby winner. His trainer is the most visible in the sport and one of its most successful. His jockey is approaching folk-hero stature. He was bred and is owned by WinStar Farm, which is well-known, respected and unblemished by controversy. He even came through for Glen Fullerton of Houston, who in a CNBC promotion won the opportunity to place a $100,000 win bet in the Derby and came away with more than $900,000 -- one for the little guy who, citing Borel as crucial to the selection, picked a winner overlooked by the nation's many public handicappers. Super Saver is an honest, hard-trying horse who delivers reliably. What's not to like?

In the post-Derby euphoria, Borel predicted that Super Saver will win the Triple Crown, providing the sport with the 3-year-old hero for which it has yearned since 1978 -- and at least for the next fortnight, that is certainly a possibility.

There is also a school of thought that dismisses the roughly run Derby -- the most slowly run in more than 20 years -- as evidence that after the injured Eskendereya, who was conspicuous by his absence of Saturday, this is far from an exceptional crop of 3-year-olds. Yet, with the Derby winner in improving form, a weak crop and an absent Eskendereya leave the door ajar. Few if any of those who opposed Super Saver in the Derby will press on to the Pimlico for the Preakness, leaving the second leg of the Triple Crown to the winner in Kentucky and those not good enough to merit an opportunity at Churchill Downs. Super Saver's arrival at Belmont Park in position to win the Triple Crown is an entirely plausible scenario. His achievement of immortality in New York is another story entirely.

Regardless of the outcome in the longer term, a Super Saver victory in the Preakness would be fortuitous. With the sport and industry reeling beneath economic hardship, a contracting media presence and political encumbrance, ratings for the Derby telecast were the highest in years, a rare bit of good news. If there is momentum built in Louisville, it will gain force with a Triple Crown possibility emerging in Baltimore. The Triple Crown has been at liberty for almost 32 years, but the possibility of history being made at Belmont Park has unfailingly brought increased public attention to a sport that has never been needier than it is now.

Paul Moran is a two-time winner of the Media Eclipse Award, and has received various honors from the National Association of Newspaper Editors, Society of Silurians, Long Island Press Club and Long Island Veterinary Medical Association. He has also been given the Red Smith Award for his coverage of the Kentucky Derby. Paul can be contacted at pmoran1686@aol.com.

• Paul Moran is a two-time winner of the Media Eclipse Award among several other industry honors. He also has been given the Red Smith Award for his coverage of the Kentucky Derby.
• You can email him at pmoran1686@aol.com