The way Bob Baffert sees it, leading Triple Crown contender Lookin At Lucky showed what he was made of when he overcame serious trouble to win the Rebel Stakes (gr. II) at Oaklawn Park three weeks ago. Now the Hall of Fame trainer just wants to get the standout son of Smart Strike through his final prep in the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) April 3 and get on to Kentucky.
Lookin At Lucky, who is expected to go off as the odds-on favorite at Santa Anita, drew post 7 in a 10-horse field and will have Garrett Gomez, the only jockey to ride him in a race, at the controls. Lookin At Lucky is 4-5 on the morning line.
The 2009 male juvenile champ was banged around on the backstretch at Oaklawn Park in his seasonal debut March 13, but recovered to make a late dash to victory in the 1 1/16-mile Rebel, defeating Noble's Promise by a hard-fought head. It was the bay colt's first start on dirt and his first try with blinkers, and it was even more impressive because Baffert didn't have him fully cranked for a big effort that day.
"It could have been disastrous because he nicked himself up pretty good in the race,' Baffert said. "But you know he showed a little determination and swinging around ... usually horses when they do that, it scares them and usually the lactic acid kicks in and they're done. But he didn't, he handled it well, he showed a lot of grit and it was really one of his better races."
Lookin At Lucky returns to the Pro-Ride main track at Santa Anita, a surface over which he won last year's Norfolk Stakes (gr. I) and was second by a head in a troubled effort in the Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), his only loss in seven starts. Baffert says the Santa Anita Derby isn't meaningless, but he got the answer he was looking for -- how Lookin At Lucky would handle dirt -- at Oaklawn.
"I got him on that dirt and I know where we stand, he likes it there better. The Pro Ride, you know we're just going to get him around there and get through the race and then I'll take him and ship him to Kentucky, then we can start fine tuning him for the race (the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands at Churchill Downs on May 1).
His decision to run at his home track instead of returning to Oaklawn for the Arkansas Derby (gr. I) on April 10 was a matter of timing.
“We were considering the Arkansas Derby because that would have given us a week more from his last race, but he worked really good here on Sunday (March 28) and he’s ready to run,” said Baffert, who has won a record five Santa Anita derbies, along with three triumphs in the Kentucky Derby. Lookin At Lucky worked six furlongs in 1:12 over the surface March 28.
“Our ultimate goal is to win the Kentucky Derby and by running here, this gives us a little extra time going into the Derby. He’s done everything we’ve asked of him and he overcame a lot of trouble in his last race and then shipped back here real good.”
In winning the Rebel, Lookin At Lucky boosted his total earnings of $1,423,000 and he leads all Derby prospects in graded winnings. A $475,000 Keeneland April 2009 2-year-old purchase, he is out of Private Feeling, by Belong to Me, and is owned by Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman.
The rivals Lookin at Lucky will face in the Santa Anita Derby include grade II winners Sidney's Candy and Caracortado, as well as Sham Stakes (gr. III) victor Alphie's Bet.
"They're nice horses," Baffert said. "Sidney's Candy, he's a speed horse, he's one dimensional, so you know 'Lucky likes a target."
Sidney's Candy, who breaks from post 4 with Joe Talamo aboard, has won both of his starts as a 3-year-old in front-running style for trainer John Sadler: the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes (gr. II) Feb. 15 and the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) March 13.
The Craig Family Trust homebred was dominant in the San Vicente, winning by 4 1/4 lengths, but had to dig in a little to hold on for a half-length triumph in the San Felipe after kicking clear in the lane. The San Felipe was the first route try for the son of Candy Ride --Fair Exchange, by Storm Cat. The horse who ran second, Interactif, is skipping the Santa Anita Derby.
“He doesn’t have to be in front, but he does have kind of a free-running style,” said Sadler, well on his way to his second straight Santa Anita training title. “If he’s not in front, he’s going to be forwardly placed, because he’s that kind of horse.”
Sidney's Candy has won three of five starts and earned $223,560.
Caracortado looks to rebound from the first defeat of his six-race career in the San Felipe, where he was third, two lengths behind Sidney's Candy. The California-bred son of Cat Dreams was a little wide rallying as the 7-5 favorite and was out-kicked in the final furlong. Trainer Michael Machowsky, who also bred Caracorado, is hoping that his stalker will benefit from a little more pace pressure this time around.
The chestnut gelding, owned by Blahut Racing and Lo Hi Racing, won the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) prior to the San Felipe and has earned $217,200 in his career. Caracortado drew post 6 and is paired once again with Paul Atkinson, who has ridden him in all of his races so far.
The rapidly improving Cal-bred Alphie's Bet will start from the far outside post with Alex Solis riding.
Trained by Alexis Barba for Teresa McWilliams, the son of Tribal Rule broke his maiden on turf against state breds Jan. 15 and then posted a visually impressive 2 1/4-length victory in the Sham, which was contested at the same nine-furlong distance as is the Santa Anita Derby. Alphie's Bet rallied from mid-pack to draw off while defeating nine rivals in the Sham.
The horse who was second in the Sham, Setsuko, was entered here by trainer Richard Mandella as well. Wertheimer & Frere's Pleasantly Perfect homebred made his stakes debut in the Sham.
M Racing's Who's Up is now trained by Michael Puhich, replacing Kathy Walsh while making his 3-year-old debut. The Graeme Hall colt won the Generous Stakes (gr. IIIT) on the Hollywood Park turf in his most recent effort Nov. 28.
The others would need to show marked improvement here.
Skipshot scored a nose victory in his first route try, winning a five-horse allowance race at one mile over Golden Gate's Tapeta surface March 14. Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, the son of Skip Away turned in a bullet five-furlong move in :58 2/5 at Santa Anita March 28.
Cardiff Giant, also entered by Puhich, and Thomas Baines are the veterans of the group with 12 starts apiece.
A son of Yankee Gentleman , Cardiff Giant has run in three graded stakes this year, finishing second in the San Rafael (gr. III) at Santa Anita, third in Oaklawn's Southwest (gr. III), and fifth in the Rebel, 8 1/2 lengths behind Lookin At Lucky.
Posse Power comes off a third in the El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) at Golden Gate Feb. 20. Thomas Baines, who was sixth in that race, came back to win a one-mile optional claimer at Santa Anita March 3.
The Santa Anita Derby headlines four graded races on a program that also includes the Arcadia Handicap (gr. IIT) and Providencia Stakes (gr. IIT), both on turf, and the Potrero Grande Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II).
$750, 000 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I, Race 6, 2:36 p.m.), 3-Year-Olds, 1 1/8 Miles (Pro-Ride)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Trainer
1. Posse Power (KY), L Mawing, F Lucarelli
2. Thomas Baines (KY), J Rosario, D F O'Neill
3. Who's Up (FL), V Espinoza, M Puhich
4. Sidney's Candy (KY), J Talamo, J W Sadler
5. Setsuko (KY), R Bejarano, R E Mandella
6. Caracortado (CA), P Atkinson, M Machowsky
7. Lookin At Lucky (KY), G K Gomez, B Baffert
8. Cardiff Giant (KY), Santiago Reyes, M Puhich
9. Skipshot (KY), F T Alvarado, J Hollendorfer
10. Alphie's Bet (CA), A O Solis, A Barba
All carry 122 pounds.