2nd at 3PREAKNESS S.
(gr. I , 9.5f , to Lookin At Lucky, defeating Jackson Bend, Yawanna Twist, Dublin, Paddy O'Prado, Caracortado, Super Saver, Schoolyard Dreams, Aikenite, Pleasant Prince, Northern Giant ).
The traditional Alibi Breakfast, held two days before the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), had just concluded, and Mike Pegram, Karl Watson, and Paul Weitman, owners of Lookin At Lucky, were milling about near the souvenir stand at Pimlico, ready to head down the stairs, when a crash was heard a few feet away.
There on the floor, shattered in small pieces, was the commemorative plate given to the owners of each Preakness starter, on which is engraved the name of the horse and the ownerÕs silks. One could barely make out PegramÕs familiar colors.
John Miller, the Maryland Racing Commission representative who had been assigned to Lookin At LuckyÕs owners the day before, was carrying the plate when it slipped out of his hands.
ThatÕs all the poor horse neededÑmore bad luck after four disastrous trips and drawing the dreaded post 1 in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
The always optimistic and jovial Pegram looked down at the fragments on the floor and said, ÒWell, at least they ainÕt on the rail.Ó
When Baffert, who had been referring to the colt after the Derby as Lookin At Unlucky, learned of the broken plate, he said that was the kiss of death.
But little did he know that Lookin At LuckyÕs luck was about to change.
There is a saying that goes, ÒThe amount of good luck coming your way depends on your willingness to act.Ó
After the Derby, in which Lookin At Lucky was shut off, squeezed, bumped into the rail, and knocked out of contention early in the race, Baffert decided not to wait for good luck any longer. It was time to act.
In a gutsy move, Baffert named 25-year-old jockey Martin Garcia, who had no experience in classic races before this year, to replace Lookin At LuckyÕs regular rider, Garrett Gomez, a two-time Eclipse Award winner who had won four consecutive national riding titles by earnings and nine BreedersÕ Cup races.
Baffert felt Lookin At Lucky and Gomez simply werenÕt having good karma and decided a change needed to be made. Garcia and Baffert had been having good luck together, highlighted by their victory in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) with Misremembered, owned by BaffertÕs wife, Jill.
It took Baffert eight days following Lookin At LuckyÕs sixth-place finish in the Derby before deciding to run the colt back in the Preakness.
On May 9 at 5:01 p.m. Baffert sent Jill a text message. It read simply: ÒWeÕre going to win the Preakness.Ó At 6:54 that same day he sent his brother, Bill, the exact same text. When Jill later asked him what prompted this newfound optimism, he told her he loved the way the horse looked and the way he was training.
He had also recently informed Gomez he reluctantly was making a rider switch.
Four days before the Preakness, Baffert told Garcia, who had ridden Conveyance for him in the Kentucky Derby, he was riding Lookin At Lucky in the Preakness.
ÒI am, really? Wow! Thank you so much, se–or. You made my day,Ó Garcia told Baffert.
ÒI said to him, ÔIÕm going out on a limb, but you need the experience, because, hopefully, youÕre going to be riding a lot of these for me,Õ Ó Baffert said. ÒI said, ÔLook, thereÕs no pressure on you. You have nothing to lose.Õ I was trying to downplay it, and he said to me, ÔNo, se–or, weÕre gonna win it.Õ After he rode in the Derby, he was already pumped up. He won the next race for me, and I think he needed that just to get rid of the butterflies. HeÕs a great kid, and the best thing about him is that he appreciates where he came from. Even as he was about to get on the horse (for the Preakness), he was still thanking me. ÒHe said, ÔThank you so much again for letting me ride the horse.Õ Ó
Baffert, who calls Garcia ÒAlvinÓ after Alvin the chipmunk, thinks his story should be made into a movie. The native of Veracruz, Mexico, has never seen his mother and father. His mother became pregnant with him when she was 14 and abandoned him. He was raised by his grandmother and wound up becoming a construction worker at age 11 after quitting school to earn some money. He later made his way to the U.S., where he worked at ChicagoÕs Metropolitan Deli in Pleasanton, Calif., as dishwasher, bus boy, and cook. When the owner of the deli took him to a nearby farm to show him her horse, he hopped on bareback and proceeded to negotiate several difficult jumps, exhibiting a natural riding ability. The deli owner introduced him to a former rider, and Garcia eventually wound up at the Pleasanton fair in Northern California, working as a hotwalker, groom, and exercise rider.
When he began riding, he showed immediate success and soon was challenging Northern California legend Russell Baze for the riding title at Bay Meadows. He captured a title at Golden Gate Fields before heading to Southern California, where he caught the eye of Baffert, who told him, ÒIf you want to ride for me, you have to show up and work horses. Starting at 8 oÕclock, you belong to me.Ó
So, everything was in place for Lookin At Lucky to turn his luck around. On May 15 the colt finally lived up to his name, as Garcia gave the son of Smart StrikeÑPrivate Feeling, by Belong to Me, a perfect ride and a clean trip, winning the Preakness by three-quarters of a length and providing Baffert with his fifth Preakness victory and first classic win in eight years.
But the real star of the 2010 Preakness was Lookin At Lucky, whose victories in the grade I Del Mar Futurity, Norfolk Stakes, and CashCall Futurity and head defeat in the Grey Goose BreedersÕ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) after racing wide from the 13 post earned him the Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male. He had become the first 2-year-old since ChiefÕs Crown in 1984 to win three U.S. grade I races. He didnÕt win his races by much but did it with tenacity and an insatiable will to win.
ÒItÕs very rare when you get a horse who wants to win as badly as he does,Ó Baffert said.
Despite horrific trips in his three starts at 3, in which he was forced to check sharply each time, he still managed to win the Rebel Stakes (gr. II) at Oaklawn in his dirt debut and finish a game third in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) before his Kentucky Derby debacle.
Because the colt wants to win so badly, it was even more frustrating and disheartening for Baffert to sit back helplessly and watch him race after race not get the opportunity to do so.
Baffert had paid $475,000 for Lookin At Lucky at the Keeneland April 2-year-olds in training sale after seeing him work an eighth in :10 flat and loving the way he moved. The colt was bred in Kentucky by Jerry Bailey and Lance RobinsonÕs Gulf Coast Farms and consigned by Jerry Bailey Sales Agency. Both Baffert and Bailey were impressed by his mind and professionalism.
ÒIn addition to having a great mind, he had a real long stride and moved with such ease,Ó Bailey recalled. ÒHe looked like he was crawling, but he actually was breezing pretty quickly. That was the phenomenal part about him. He took everything in stride and never got rattled. HeÕd just go in the barn, lie down and go to sleep, go to the track, stand there and look around, train, and go back to the barn. He did that every day.
ÒWhen he breezed for the sale, he did it so easily I was afraid to look at the teletimer, because I thought he had gone in about :12, but the teletimer had him going in :10. I was so impressed that he was able to do it so easily and still go so fast. I knew Bob was interested in him, but he was careful not to show his hand. HeÕs a pretty cagey guy. We would have loved to retain part of the horse, but Bob had put together the partnership (with Pegram, Watson, and Weitman), and they wanted to go in themselves.Ó
After the Derby, Baffert decided not to work Lookin At Lucky. He had a hard 2-year-old campaign and two hard races at 3, and because he is a May 27 foal and hasnÕt even turned 3 yet, Baffert wanted to keep the weight on him and maintain his energy level.
He wanted so badly for the colt to redeem himself and show everyone what he was capable of with a good trip, but there were still those lingering doubts about how good he really was.
ÒI just didnÕt know what to expect,Ó Jill said. ÒI didnÕt want to be disappointed again and have to make excuses.Ó
Most of the talk at Pimlico was about Super Saver, winner of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), and jockey Calvin Borel.
Bill Casner, co-owner of WinStar Farm, stood at the gap two days before the Preakness (gr. I) watching Super Saver jog and still was on cloud nine at having captured the Run for the Roses.
ÒEveryoneÕs asked me if IÕm looking forward to the Preakness, and I keep saying Ônot yet; I want to keep soaking this one in,Õ Ó Casner said. ÒYouÕre a winner until you get in the gate for the next one. I was looking at that plaque above the traditional Derby winnerÕs stall listing all the great horses that have been in that stall and it gave me the chills. ItÕs hallowed ground.Ó
Trainer Todd Pletcher was thrilled with the way Super Saver bounced out of the Derby and, unlike Casner, was looking forward to the Preakness.
ÒI would love to win this one and go on to the next step and have a shot at the Triple Crown,Ó he said. ÒI know NYRA, ABC, and ESPN would love it. The two weeks is the biggest issue. IÕm just hoping he can come back with another performance like his last one.Ó
The Preakness drew a field of 12. At the draw Baffert sat next to Wayne Lukas, trainer of Dublin. This was the moment he dreaded the most and even contemplated scratching Lookin At Lucky if he drew the rail. He had been looking for any excuse not to run in the Preakness, but he had no choice after watching the colt train.
Then the pills were drawn. ÒNumber 1 goes toÉÓ Baffert stiffened and braced himself. ÒÉAikenite.Ó Baffert ran his fingers across his forehead and went, ÒWhew.Ó Then the number 7 was announced. This was BaffertÕs favorite post. Could he actually get lucky this time? ÒNumber 7 goes to Lookin At Lucky.Ó Baffert broke into a big smile and gave Lukas a thumbs up. ÒOK,Ó he thought, Òsomeone wants him to win now.Ó
Lukas was in a different situation. He did not want Dublin drawing the far outside post, because of the coltÕs tendency to duck out at the start. When Dublin, who picked up the services of Garrett Gomez immediately after he was taken off Lookin At Lucky, did indeed draw post 12, Lukas was not happy and made a quick getaway at the conclusion of the draw.
In addition to Super Saver, who drew post 8, and Dublin, the Preakness field included Paddy OÕPrado, third in the Derby, and the hard-knocking Jackson Bend, who finished a troubled 12th in the Derby. The newcomers included Caracortado, First Dude, Schoolyard Dreams, Aikenite, Yawanna Twist, and Pleasant Prince.
Super Saver was made the 9-5 favorite, with Lookin At Lucky 2-1, Paddy OÕPrado 7-1, and Dublin 9-1.
At the break LukasÕ worst fears were realized when Dublin ducked out and Gomez had to steady him to avoid running into the outriderÕs pony. Dublin was completely off stride and struggled early while well back in last place.
Lookin At Lucky broke well, and when Garcia got him in a good position within striking distance of the leaders going into the first turn, Baffert began getting a good feeling about the colt for the first time in a while. Garcia was able to ease out for clear sailing as they headed down the backstretch, with the massive First Dude setting testing fractions of :22.91 and :46.47, followed by Super Saver, Jackson Bend down on the inside, Caracortado out in the clear, Yawanna Twist in behind Jackson Bend, and Lookin At Lucky, who was only five lengths off the lead.
As they rounded the far turn after three-quarters 1:11.22, First Dude still maintained a length advantage over Super Saver, as Lookin At Lucky moved up quickly on the far outside, while Super Saver surprisingly began dropping back.
ÒOK, here he comes,Ó Baffert thought. ÒNo excuses now.Ó
When Lookin At Lucky moved up alongside First Dude at the head of the stretch, Baffert had only one thought in his head. ÒThis is what we wanted. Now letÕs see what heÕs made of.Ó
Lookin At Lucky collared First Dude, along with Caracortado, who was rallying to his inside. Jackson Bend was in behind the leaders with nowhere to go and Yawanna Twist was putting in a good run on the outside.
Lookin At Lucky gained a narrow advantage just before the eighth pole, but First Dude was hanging in there gamely. Yawanna Twist was a threatening presence, but it was Jackson Bend, who eased out and split horses, that was running strongest of all. As usual, Lookin At Lucky dug in and refused to let Jackson Bend or First Dude get by him.
Lookin At Lucky crossed the wire three-quarters of a length in front of First Dude, who ran a remarkably game race, as did Jackson Bend, who was a head back in third, and one length in front of Yawanna Twist.
Also remarkable was the fact that Dublin, who was pretty much out of the race, had gotten to the rail, moved out five wide, and managed to finish fifth, beaten 53Ú4 lengths.
Super Saver tired badly, finishing a well-beaten eighth. ÒI thought we were in a good spot and it looked like the colt was relaxed,Ó Pletcher said. ÒHe was traveling well down the backside, but you could tell around the far turn he was empty. I thought Calvin gave him a perfect trip. This was back a little quick for him. Now weÕve got time to come back for a big summer. I wouldnÕt trade the Derby for anything.Ó
Borel said, ÒHe just wasnÕt able to get there today. IÕll win a lot of other races with this horse. HeÕs a good one.Ó
The final time was a solid 1:55.47, with the final three-sixteenths run in a strong :191Ú5.
ÒI almost fell off my chair,Ó said Jill Baffert. ÒBut I didnÕt care. HeÕs such a fighter.Ó
Both Dale Romans, trainer of First Dude, and Nick Zito, trainer of Jackson Bend, were proud of their horses, and Jackson BendÕs co-owner, Robert LaPenta, seemed as elated as if he had won. ÒWhat an amazing performance,Ó he said. ÒWhat a little tiger.Ó
Romans said of First Dude, ÒHe ran a monster race. When he saw BobÕs horse, he dug in and came again. IÕm very proud of him. WeÕll ship him to New York for the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) and get there early so we can get a few works over the track.Ó
Zito has Ice Box and Fly Down for the Belmont and will give Jackson Bend a well-deserved rest. Lookin At Lucky flew back to California the morning after the race and most likely will point for the Haskell Invitational (gr. I) at Monmouth.
ÒHe had a hard 2-year-old campaign, heÕs still growing, and because heÕs such a late foal, I want to give him some time and freshen him up,Ó Baffert said. ÒIÕm just so happy for the horse. He deserved this and to have his name up there with all the Preakness winners. He laid his little ears back and just kept digging in.Ó
After the race Baffert sent a text message to Gomez, saying, ÒSorry the way it worked out.Ó
This was a special moment for BaffertÕs longtime assistant Jimmy Barnes and his wife, Dana, who exercises Lookin At Lucky.
ÒItÕs so rewarding, just because of all weÕve been going through since the Santa Anita Derby; actually since the BreedersÕ Cup,Ó Jimmy said. ÒItÕs been one frustration after another. He finally got the trip he needed, and he showed what kind of horse he is. This horse wants to win, and he laid it down and gutted it out like heÕs done so many times before.Ó
ÒHeÕs just like a happy kid,Ó Dana said. ÒHeÕs like, ÔWhatever you want me to do IÕll do it.Õ What makes this so special is that, although weÕd won four Preaknesses, Jimmy and I have never been here at the same time, because one of us had to take care of the kids.Ó
Jimmy added, ÒItÕs so great for us to be together and enjoy it, and weÕre so happy for Martin. That kid rides his heart out.Ó
BaffertÕs brother Bill, who is a longtime friend of both Watson and Weitman, took great satisfaction in having been present for four of BobÕs Preakness victories.
ItÕs been 13 years since Baffert stormed on the scene with Silver Charm and became an instant rock star, with his milky white hair and quick wit. Back then, Pegram, who owned 1998 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Real Quiet, would bring his young grandson Gator to the big races, but Gator, who is now finishing high school, admits he doesnÕt remember much about those days.
Now, it is BaffertÕs son Bode, who is about the same age Gator was then, who is a fixture at the races. Jill and Bob realize Bode will not remember all this and the recognition he generates, with the crowd yelling out his name on the walk over to the paddock.
ÒItÕs like the changing of the guard,Ó Jill said about Gator and Bode. But now there is one difference. ÒIÕll remember this one,Ó Gator said after the race. ÒThis is special.Ó
What made this race even more special for Baffert was that his parents are still alive to see and enjoy it. His mother has been ill for several years and this was a tonic for her as she watched back home in Nogales, Ariz.
ÒIt means so much that my parents were able to see this,Ó Baffert said. ÒItÕs keeping them alive watching these big races. ItÕs more for my parents than anything else. My motherÕs (Ellie) been hanging in there, but itÕs tough. I spoke to her after the race, and she said, ÔDad and I were cheering, and I kept saying ÒYou did it.Ó And I got to see my baby (Bode) on television.Õ Ó
Ellie said the next day, ÒThat was just tremendous. You know, Bobby has won three Derbys, but IÕve never gotten so many phone calls as I did after this race. Maybe itÕs because he hadnÕt won (a classic) in a long time. But IÕm so happy, and IÕm proud of olÕ Bobby. He bounced right back; I always knew he would. Bill called and told me about the crowd cheering Bode before the race. IÕm crazy about that baby. All my kids have grown up, and heÕs the only baby I have left.Ó
Pegram summed up the feelings of his partners when he said, ÒWeÕre all luckier than hell to have each other and to have a horse like this. We all know weÕve been blessed and the horse keeps showing us how blessed we are.Ó
Long after the races Watson was still trying to figure out how to cash his winning tickets. He slipped through a small opening in the Maryland Jockey Club tent and went up to the mutuel clerk who was still there. After telling her who he was, he had to wait until someone arrived with a bag of money, at which time the mutuel clerk proceeded to count out a stack of bills for him.
She then congratulated Watson and asked him, ÒIs your name in the program as the owner or are you just part of a syndicate?Ó
Watson paused for a second and replied, ÒHey, youÕre lookinÕ at lucky.Ó
The following morning everyone had already shipped out, and only BaffertÕs horses remained. Unlike the frenzied party atmosphere of the night before, all was quiet, except for the occasional chirping of a robin. Baffert leaned against the fence and said, ÒYou know, it was so easy getting up this morning. The morning after the Derby I couldnÕt drag myself out of bed. But when that alarm went off today, I jumped out of bed and couldnÕt wait to get to the barn and see the horse and talk about the race again.Ó
Baffert then leaned his head his back ever so slightly, took a big whiff of the cool morning air, and said, ÒAah, smells likeÉvictory.Ó
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