Déjà vu at Derby 136

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- It stormed all morning; thunder and lightning, hail and wind, enough rain to float Noah's Ark. Throughout the afternoon, an intermittent drizzle soaked the track, the runners and the 155,804 viewers who crowded into the grandstand, clubhouse and infield of Churchill Downs. Then, at 6:22 p.m. ET, the sun peeked out from behind the clouds and Calvin Borel came skimming along the rail to win Kentucky Derby No. 136.

It was déjà vu all over again.

Sure, the horse was different -- WinStar Farm's Super Saver, a son of Maria's Mon who romped in the slop back in 2009 when he broke his maiden at Belmont Park -- and so was the trainer, Todd Plecher, finally breaking his 0-for-24 streak with Kentucky Derby starters. The odds were a little lower; the 3-year-old colt was sent off as the 8-1 second choice. But the scenario, from the rain to the rail-skimming ride, was as familiar as Kentucky Derby No. 135, when Borel rode Mine That Bird through the slop to a win at odds of 50-1.

Up in the grandstands, trainer Chip Woolley Jr. let out a cheer. He had been rooting for Borel, who rode his winner to victory last year.

"That was fantastic, I'm always pullin' for Calvin no matter what he's riding," Woolley said. "When he turned for home, I thought, 'Oh, God, he's gonna win again.' It was unbelievable. I pull for him all the time; he's a great guy and he works so hard."

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas was also pleased with the outcome -- as pleased as you can be when your protégé beats you in the biggest race of the year. Dublin, Lukas' contender, finished seventh.

"I'm very proud of Todd, very proud," the Hall of Famer said. "I'm very happy for him. I knew there was one out there for him. I tried to help him put that in the right perspective. I'm surprised it hasn't happened sooner but it doesn't matter, just so it happens."

It was a feel-good story all around, from the philanthropy-prone connections of WinStar to the down-to-earth emotion of Borel to the Derby win, finally, for Pletcher. Although Pletcher, 42, was traditionally stoic regarding his victory, he said the wonder of it all was still sinking in.

"At the three-sixteenths pole, when Calvin got the lead change, I said, 'This could happen.' You get to the eighth pole and at that point you're surveying, is anybody else coming and can this actually happen, are we going to get there? Then when it becomes obvious, it's just a special feeling."

Those at WinStar Farm -- co-owners Bill and Susan Casner and Kenny Troutt -- and president Doug Cauthen and racing manager Elliott Walden, experienced that feeling just three days after suffering the lows of the game. They withdrew Derby contender Endorsement, who fractured a bone in his ankle, on Wednesday. He underwent successful surgery in Lexington to repair the injury.

"Our team at WinStar has done an unbelievable job," Bill Casner said. "Every day the journey to get these horses to the races, anything can stop them. This victory belongs to our team."

Pletcher, too, suffered crushed hopes earlier in the week when his early favorite, Eskendereya, was withdrawn with an injured left foreleg. Now, the trainer said, he can see that things happen for a reason.

"This is Super Saver's day; he loved this racetrack," he said. "He liked it when it was fast, he liked it when it was muddy. Sometimes things just work out. Sometimes it's not just about you; it's about everybody else, too."

At Churchill Downs on Saturday, that's the strongest message the connections of the 136th Kentucky Derby winner had to share. And Borel, of course, portrayed it perfectly as he left the winner's circle of the race worth more than $2 million to ride in the next -- an allowance event with a $52,000 purse.

Claire Novak is an award-winning journalist whose coverage of the Thoroughbred industry appears in a variety of outlets, including The Blood-Horse magazine, the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.) and NTRA.com. She lives in Lexington, Ky.