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Lookin At Lucky checks out Churchill Downs on Wednesday morning.
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Anne M. Eberhardt

'Lucky' Likes What He Sees at Churchill

Divisional leader gallops around Churchill oval.

Edited Breeders' Cup Notes

Lookin At Lucky , the nation’s top 3-year-old contender for Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) at Churchill Downs, got his first tour of the Churchill track under exercise rider Jorge Alvarez the morning of Wednesday, Nov. 3, after the renovation break, and Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert declared it a “super good” trip.

“There’s ‘good,’ and then there’s ‘super good’,” Baffert said in a statement around 8:30 a.m., as the Smart Strike colt galloped once around. “I like it when it’s super good. He looks so different on dirt; he looks like he’s happier, he enjoys himself. He moves so much smoother over the dirt than he does on synthetics. He’s doing well.”

In spite of a sixth-place finish in the May 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) in his last visit to Churchill Downs, Lookin At Lucky has stamped his credentials in the division with wins in the Oct. 2 Indiana Derby (gr. II) in his last start, a score in the IZOD Haskell Invitational (gr. I) in the summer, and a Preakness (gr. I) victory earlier this spring.

According to Baffert, he’s still going strong in the second part of the year. “The Indiana Derby showed a dimension we didn’t know he had, of really having the worst of it and still coming through in such an easy manner,” Baffert said in a release. “I thought for sure down the backside that he was finished, you know, there’s no way he’s going to run the way the track was playing that day. And he went around there and came back like it was nothing for him. Even in the Kentucky Derby after getting wiped out, he still was trying to get there. And that’s the thing about this horse--he has so much determination. So it’s exciting to come into the race the way he’s doing right now.”

Lookin At Lucky arrived at Churchill on the same Tex Sutton charter flight that brought the unbeaten Zenyatta. He’ll tangle with older horses for the first time in the Classic.  

“I think a lot of us trainers, we’re all in the same boat, none of us have ever faced this kind of competition before,” Baffert said of taking on Zenyatta. “But it’s still worked out to be one of those Breeders’ Cup Classics where all the good horses have shown up, and it’s going to be a good race. It’s hard to get really excited about it because the mare’s in there, so I don’t want to get too excited. I just want to see a good run. Turning for home, I’d like to be in a spot to get a good run because every time he gets a chance to get in a good run, he wins.”

Lookin At Lucky wasn't the sole Classic contender with activity at Churchill. 

Quality Road – The third betting choice on the morning line went out for a leisurely gallop the morning of Nov. 3, and trainer Todd Pletcher said he was much more concerned by his star’s post position (1) than the memory of last year’s starting gate issues that resulted in a late scratch from the Classic.

“We haven’t seen any indications it will be a problem,” Pletcher said. “I would say as far as disappointments go you could rank that one pretty high, but he’s been great ever since. When we laid out a program last fall this is what we had in mind this year. Other than finishing a head short in the Whitney (gr. I, at Saratoga), everything has gone exactly the way we planned.”

The son of Elusive Quality has lost twice at the Classic distance of 1 1/4 miles, but Pletcher doesn’t believe his 4-year-old has distance limitations.
“This is the kind of race where you worry about everything,” he said. “If you watch his race in the Donn (gr. I) and the Florida Derby (gr. I), I can’t see a mile-and-a-quarter being an issue as strong as he finished his mile-and-an-eighth races. Even at a mile and an eighth, you’d be concerned just with the quality of the field. There’s no margin for error. I think you have to be ready to run your best race.”

Pletcher said he has never lost confidence in the colt.

“We felt like all along we’ve got the best horse in training,” said Pletcher, who has the rare opportunity of winning the Kentucky Derby (with Super Saver ) and Classic at Churchill in the same year. “I think the Donn is the strongest race any horse has run this year.”

Haynesfield –Turtle Bird Stable’s Haynesfield will attempt to become the first New York-bred to capture a Breeders’ Cup race. He has nine wins on his resume from 13 starts, with four of those coming against restricted company, but in his final start of 2009 the connections realized they might have something special.

“His win in the Discovery (gr. III) last year showed us what he could be,” Asmussen said. “His Suburban (gr. I) victory this year, and in his Jockey Club (Gold Cup, gr. I) win after that, he showed us that he’s a top class horse.”

Haynesfield, by Speightstown , has traditionally done his best running on the lead, or from just off the pace. A dry track that’s tough to close over would work to his advantage. 

“Speed holds if you’re fast,” Asmussen joked. “It’s a very fair racetrack. The track was very slow opening day (Sunday), but with racing the next few days, it should tighten up a bit.”

Blame – The 9-2 second choice for the $5 million Classic took to the track Wednesday morning for an easy jog. Trainer Al Stall Jr. said everything was as it should be with the 4-year-old son of Arch.

Blame’s last work was turned in on Monday, an effortless four-furlong workout of :49 4/5 under jockey Garrett Gomez.

Espoir City – Jockey Tetsuzo Sato breezed the 5-year-old Japanese-bred horse four furlongs in :49 3/5 the morning of Nov. 3. 

Rather than using the Japanese style of breaking off at the finish line and working around the first turn, as he had done Oct. 31, trainer Akio Adachi had Sato work the two-time group I winner to the wire, the conventional approach in North America.

“Today was sort of the final touch-up,” he said through interpreter Mikki Tsuge, West Coast Representative for the Japan Racing Association, who has been serving as the connections’ liaison at Churchill Downs.

“We had the jockey on him. There were no instructions, no specific fractions requested. I just wanted the jockey to feel how the horse was.”

Adachi was pleased with the work. “I’m quite satisfied,” he said, adding the son of Gold Allure can handle whatever develops in the Classic.

“Espoir City is quite versatile,” he said. “No instructions will be given to the jockey. We will leave it to him. If he breaks well, he can settle wherever. If he doesn’t break well, he can cover ground. I’m not concerned.”

The group I Japan Cup Dirt and February Stakes winner drew post 11 in the 12-horse field.

“I actually like it,” Adachi said.

The trainer said his horse can deal with the American style of racing, with a quick early pace. 

“In his recent races, he has been up front,” he said. “I’m quite certain that he has the speed to keep up with the pace here. Also, I’m not concerned with the distance. This will be his first time going a mile-and-a-quarter, but I’m quite confident that he will handle the distance as well. I really don’t have any major concerns.”

Etched – The 5-year-old son of Forestry arrived at Barn 40 on the Churchill Downs backstretch at 3:30 the morning of Nov. 3 after leaving his Greentree Training Center in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., at 1 p.m. Nov. 2.

“Everything went well,” said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin from his Belmont Park base. “He just walked this morning and will train tomorrow.”

Etched, who has won both his starts this year, will be making his grade I debut in the Classic.

“We have never run against Zenyatta. I have a great deal of respect for her. Obviously she’s the one to beat,” McLaughlin said. “It would be great for racing if she could retire undefeated, but for my family, I’d like to beat her. But if we don’t win, I’d hope she does win. If we do win, I can tell you I won’t feel bad for long.”

Alan Garcia has the mount on Etched.

First Dude/ Paddy O’PradoFirst Dude  galloped 1 1/2 miles Nov. 3, and was then made to stand on the track “to get a good look at Zenyatta.”

The Dale Romans-trained First Dude, by Stephen Got Even, enters the Classic off a runner-up finish in the Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) and Romans feels that race was key to him finally reaching a level of maturity.

“He just needed the time to mature and I think he’s finally coming around,” said Romans. “I honestly believe he thinks he won that race because ever since that race, he’s been real cocky. He’s never been like that before.”

Paddy O' Prado, the El Prado colt who finished third in the Kentucky Derby, galloped 1 1/2 miles over the main Churchill track Nov. 3 in preparation for his return to dirt in the Classic after three wins and a second on turf.

“He's never trained better than he did this morning,” said Romans. “Both my horses are coming around at the right time. We're definitely not going to have any excuses if we lose.”

Both First Dude and Paddy O'Prado will gallop up to the Classic. 

Fly Down – The 3-year-old son of Mineshaft  galloped 1 1/2 miles at Churchill Downs the morning of Nov. 3 under exercise rider Carlos Correa.

Fly Down, who broke his maiden at Churchill Downs last fall, has demonstrated a strong, late kick that has powered him to victory in the Dwyer (gr. II) and second-place finishes in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) and the Travers Stakes (gr. I), which he lost by just a nose to Afleet Express.

“It’ll be an interesting race. I just hope the horses that are supposed to go…go, for our horse,” said trainer Nick Zito, obviously hoping that Haynesfield and Quality Road and others will set a strong early pace to complement his colt’s late-running effort. Zito acknowledged that Zenyatta would also be a beneficiary of a solid early pace.

“Naturally all eyes are on Zenyatta,” Zito said. “You are what your record is, and she has a perfect record. Obviously, this is her biggest test, win, lose, or draw.”

Julien Leparoux will be aboard Fly Down for the first time.

Musket Man – The 4-year-old colt stretched his legs with a mile jog over the Churchill Downs main track the morning of Nov. 3, going out for the first time since arriving late Nov. 2. 

Trainer Derek Ryan, who arrived in Louisville at midnight, was on hand to supervise the colt’s training. Musket Man is stabled in Barn 41, in the same stall he occupied when he ran third in the 2009 Kentucky Derby and third in the Churchill Downs Stakes (gr. II) on Derby Day this year. Musket Man found traffic trouble in both races or he might have fared better.

“He seems to get into trouble here,” Ryan said, “but he finds trouble everywhere. We need a clean trip in this race.”

This year, the son of Yonaguska, owned by Eric Fein and Vic Carlson, has won just once in six starts, with three seconds and two thirds. He was second to Quality Road in the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) and third behind Blame and Quality Road in the Whitney.

Last out, Musket Man was the 1-2 favorite in the Monmouth Cup, but was beaten a neck by Etched.

“He should have won that race,” Ryan said. “I said he would only go to the Breeders’ Cup if he won, but I know he was much the best that day and unlucky to lose by a neck. I know he’ll run well here.”

Musket Man gets another change of riders for the Classic, with Rajiv Maragh taking over again. Maragh rode the colt in the Whitney, when he was closer to the pace than usual.

“Rajiv knows the horse,” Ryan said, explaining the switch from last out.  “He chased the speed in the Whitney because he didn’t want Quality Road to steal the race on the lead.”

Pleasant Prince – The 3-year-old son of Indy King galloped 1 1/2 miles on the main track after the mid-morning break Nov. 3 and trainer Wesley Ward continues to be encouraged about the colt owned by Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey.

“He’s been training awesome for quite a while, and that’s why Mr. Ramsey paid the $100,000 to nominate him for the Classic,” Ward said. “He’s just doing awesome and I think he’s going to run big enough to warrant that extra fee.”

Pleasant Prince drew post 9 at the Nov. 2 post-position draw, but Ward said he’s not concerned about that. “He’ll get good position up fairly close,” the trainer said.