BALTIMORE — In the end, Super Saver got caught by the clock.
After all, Todd Pletcher was playing against type, this Preakness. He's a run-and-rest trainer. Run your horse. Then give your horse plenty of rest. Find your race. Then run your horse again. That blueprint brought the 42-year-old four Eclipse Awards, record years in purse earnings and, on May 1, his first Kentucky Derby win.
That is not the Triple Crown formula, of course, where but two weeks exist between the world's biggest race and possibly the world's second-biggest race, where if you have the Derby winner, and he's healthy, time should stop no man or horse.
Said Pletcher on Friday, "You take your shot."
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Only a day later, in the 135th Preakness Stakes, when push came to shove, Super Saver shot a blank, finishing eighth.
"We were in a perfect spot," Pletcher said. "And, you know, just came up empty."
Not counting Barbaro's tragic injury in the 2006 race, it was the worst Preakness finish by a Kentucky Derby winner since Dust Commander finished ninth in 1970.
Two weeks back, Super Saver had the track he loved (Churchill Downs), the conditions he favored (a sloppy track) and the rest he needed (three weeks between races).
Saturday, Lookin At Lucky had the luck. He had the post position, the comfortable No. 7 hole as opposed to that No. 1 spot that demolished his Derby hopes. He had the jockey in 25-year-old Martin Garcia, who rode superbly as replacement for the star-crossed veteran Garrett Gomez. And Lucky had the trainer in Bob Baffert, who won his fifth Preakness.
Pletcher is searching for No. 1.
"I wouldn't trade the Derby for anything," answered the trainer with a determined grin while walking back up the track after checking on his horse.
Pletcher would have loved this one, too, of course. Once at Pimlico, he said he doubted there could be a better feeling than bringing a horse back to his home base at Belmont with a chance to take the Triple Crown.
But the Preakness isn't a Pletcher priority. It doesn't fit his timeline. Coming into this year, the Todd Squad had run 24 horses in the Kentucky Derby, without a win. It had run just four horses in the Preakness.
Then again, Pletcher had never brought a Derby winner to Baltimore, either. Seven times over the past 13 years, the horse that hit the wire first at Churchill Downs hit the wire first at Pimlico. The gamblers among the 95,760 in attendance expected form to hold, making Super Saver a $1.90-1 favorite over second-choice Lucky, who was $2.40-1.
Hot jock Calvin Borel had the WinStar wonder in just the right spot early, holding second behind front-runner First Dude.
"My horse broke sharp, right where I wanted," Borel said later. "I let the other horse go, and I was right behind him. He just wasn't able to get there today."
"It was an honest pace with First Dude hanging in there," Pletcher said. "I thought Calvin gave him a perfect trip, you know, just coming off a huge effort in the Derby, the two weeks was just too short."
When did Pletcher know two weeks was too short?
"When they went to the far turn," said the trainer. "You could see that Calvin kind of squeezed him and was asking him to go get that horse and he just couldn't do it. He hung in there, he kept fighting, he tried hard, but you know it was just back a little quick for him."
Pletcher didn't let on to much of that during the two weeks. He admitted his voluminous data showed his horses did best off longer rests. But he also insisted Super Saver was training well, looking fit, and ready for another big effort.
"We felt like the two weeks had gone as smoothly as possible," he said Saturday. "The colt had done everything we had asked him to do, and bounced out of it well and was eating well, and doing all those things. But you can't always gauge it."
You can't gauge it until the horse hits the track.
"I've been in that position so many times," Pletcher said. "They're eating well, they're training well, they're energetic, but when it comes crunch time, you know, like the three-eighths pole when he needed to find more, that's really the only time you find out when two weeks is enough time. In his case, I just don't think it was."
And, when you're the Derby winner, that's OK.
Said Pletcher, "We got the one we wanted the most."