On the morning following Lookin At Lucky's victory in the 135th Preakness Stakes (gr. I) May 15, trainer Bob Baffert said the colt would be given a break and will not contest the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) in three weeks.
Trainer Todd Pletcher had already announced that Super Saver , winner of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) on May 1, would not race in the June 5 Belmont after his eighth-place finish in the Preakness. This year's Belmont will be the first since 2006 in which neither the Derby nor Preakness winner will compete.
Baffert, speaking from the stakes barn at Pimlico as Lookin At Lucky was being prepared for the van that would take him to the airport to begin his return to California, explained his decision to skip the 1 1/2-mile Belmont.
"It’s a tough, long race,” he said. “When I ran my other horses for the Triple Crown, I had to give them a break. It’s tough on them. I want to keep this horse around.”
Baffert broke form May 16, arriving at the Pimlico backstretch shortly after 6 a.m., still beaming over Lookin At Lucky's Preakness win by three-quarters of a length.
“It was so easy to get up this morning,” Baffert said. “At Churchill after the Kentucky Derby, it was hard to get up. I felt like I’d gone a mile and a quarter in the mud. That alarm went off and I jumped out of there like, `yes, I’ve got to go talk about it.' ”
Baffert said that he didn’t have a plan in place for the son of Smart Strike --Private Feeling, but that the Haskell Invitational (gr. I) on Aug. 1 at Monmouth Park was a likely target. He said he may still have a horse in the Belmont, Lone Star Derby (gr. III) winner Game On Dude.
Noting that Preakness runner-up First Dude was likely to go on to the Belmont, Baffert said it would be the “Battle of the Dudes.”
He said Lookin At Lucky came out of the Preakness in sound condition, but deserved a break after four tough races since winning the Rebel Stakes (gr. II) on March 13.
Baffert, after his his first Triple Crown win since War Emblem took the 2002 Preakness, had plenty of reasons to be happy about this year's renewal. With new jockey Martin Garcia aboard, Lookin At Lucky had finally broken the bad karma that had enveloped him this year. That spell of bad luck included a victory despite a troubled trip in the Rebel; a third with much trouble in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), and a sixth after being banged around from the inside post in the 20-horse Kentucky Derby over a sloppy, sealed track.
The trainer dropped the heralded Garrett Gomez for the relatively inexperienced 25-year-old Garcia. They drew the favorable post No. 7 and caught a fast track. Garcia provided a solid ride.
“He got the trip that you need to win a classic,” Baffert said. “The trip is all-important. His post positions were just killing him. The post position was the whole key. He finally was in a spot where he could negotiate a little bit. And Martin rode him with a lot of confidence.”
Baffert said the jockey switch was not a shot at Gomez.
“It was just trying to shake something up, trying to change my luck,” he said. “I felt bad about taking Garrett off; I still feel bad about it. I felt bad for Garrett last night. He’s a good friend. It’s got to be tough for him to see his horse win a classic. You don’t get very many chances.”
Baffert said he had reached out to Gomez after the race.
“I texted him last night and said I’m sorry how it worked,” he said. “I’ll find some other good horses for him. He’s made me a lot of money. I’ve made him a lot of money. He’s been the recipient of some jockey changes. He’s still a great rider.”
The 2010 Preakness win was Baffert’s ninth in a Triple Crown race,.
“It seemed like 12 years until yesterday,” Baffert said. “When we hit the wire it seemed like about three years since we’d won it.”
And it seemed like a long time since Lookin At Lucky, the 2009 juvenile champion, had caught a break in a race.
“I was just happy for that little horse,” Baffert said. “He deserved to win. He’s been a true warrior.”
Pletcher’s Preakness horses, the beaten favorite Super Saver and Aikenite, left the stakes barn early in the morning for the van ride to Belmont Park.
“Both horses came out well,” Pletcher said by phone at 11:30 a.m. “Both have already arrived at Belmont in good order and are settling in there. I left at 6 and they left right around the same time.”
Neither will run in the Belmont Stakes, Pletcher said.
Super Saver, Pletcher’s first Derby winner, stalked the pace for a mile in the Preakness under jockey Calvin Borel, but ran out of energy and finished eighth.
“Like I said after the race, we wanted to win the Preakness,” Pletcher said. “There’s nothing more that I would have loved to have done than to come back to Belmont with a chance at the Triple Crown, but we are so happy about the way he ran in the Derby and so thankful about that, that it would be hard to be disappointed about anything he ever does from this point on. I think it softens the blow a bit. You can always look back and know you won the Derby and that’s paramount. Any time you lose a race and don’t run as well as the horse is capable of, it’s disappointing, but it’s no reflection on how good of a horse he is and we’re glad to have him.”
Pletcher said the stress of getting to the Derby, running a strong race, and coming back in two weeks in the Preakness probably took a toll on Super Saver.
“Sometimes you can look at all the signs on the outside and while he’s eating well and he’s training well and acts enthusiastic and energetic, someone asked me when do you know if two weeks is enough time?” he said.
“Really, it’s at about the three-eighths pole in the race when you really know. He ran well up to that point and when Calvin called on him for a response at that point he didn’t have that extra gear on the day. It’s not only the two weeks from the Derby to the Preakness, but it was also back in three weeks off the Arkansas Derby. So he had two very good races close together. It probably wasn’t enough time for him to improve and put forth another top race.”
Trainer Dale Romans said that Preakness pacesetter First Dude, who was shipped back to Churchill Downs early in the morning, came out of the race well and is being pointed to the Belmont.
“I’m not disappointed at all. He had a big effort and he got beat by a champion,” said Romans, whose second-place finisher broke alertly from the No. 11 post and showed the way into the stretch. “He did all the work up front and he still finished and they had to work to get by him.”
“I think he’s going to move forward again,” he added. “The mile and a half suits him and we’re excited to go up there.”
Romans said he was not upset that Lookin At Lucky and Super Saver would skip the Belmont.
“I think it’s a great race to win regardless. I think it’s going to end up being a pretty good field of horses,” Romans said. “With horses like Ice Box , Fly Down and my horse, it’ll be a good race.”
Connections for the other horses in the Preakness reported that their horses came out of the race in satisfactory condition.