Donato Lanni’s main job is working as the bloodstock services director for Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms near Lexington. But he’s also the person Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert turns to when he searches for future classic winners at yearling and juvenile auctions.
Lanni is responsible for sifting through all the young horses and coming up with a short list of the ones that Baffert might be interested in buying. Last year, Lanni recommended a fast Smart Strike colt to the trainer at the Keeneland April sale of 2-year-olds in training. That juvenile turned out to be Lookin At Lucky, who became a champion and won the May 15 Preakness (gr. I).
“I go out and find horses for Bob and then call him, but all the credit should go to Bob; I’m just lucky to be part of the team,” said Lanni while waiting for Baffert and Lookin At Lucky’s owners to finish their interviews with the media following the Preakness.
Lookin At Lucky was a $35,000 buy-back at the 2008 Keeneland September yearling sale, and his conformation flaws and radiographic abnomalities have been reported extensively. They included pasterns that were too long, lesions in his stifles and front ankles, and narrow feet. But nothing seemed to bother the colt when he worked prior to Keeneland’s juvenile auction, covering an eighth of a mile in :10.
“He was the horse that just stood out,” Lanni said. “He did everything so easy on the racetrack. It didn’t look like he was going very fast, but he was. He cooled out great, and he was sound. He was really laid-back and a really smart horse. He was very level-headed. Nothing seemed to get him stirred up.”
Even though Lookin At Lucky wasn’t perfect physically, “he just had so much class about him; he had a presence,” Lanni remembered.
And Lanni knew Baffert wasn’t the type to fret about things other buyers might worry about. After all, the trainer and one of the men who would become a co-owner of Lookin At Lucky, Mike Pegram, had won the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness with champion Real Quiet, whose body was so narrow as a yearling that he was nicknamed “The Fish.”
“Bob will look at anything,” Lanni said. “If they’re runners, they’re runners. It doesn’t matter who they’re by or how they’re made. He does it (buy good horses) year after year; he’s consistent. I’ve learned a lot being with him. He’s the man.”
Baffert signed Look At Lucky’s $475,000 sale ticket on behalf of Pegram, and the colt has more than lived up to his early promise while racing for Pegram, Paul Weitman, and Karl Watson.
Lanni said he has been helping Baffert find racing prospects at the sales for “three or four” years.
“He’s great to work for,” Lanni said, “but he’s also tough. You’ve got to be ready for every question. You’ve got to do your homework. He’s an amazing person and a brilliant trainer.”