Lookin At Lucky, the beaten favorite in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), redeemed himself in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO), taking the lead at the top of the stretch and stubbornly fending off pacesetter First Dude and a closing Jackson Bend. With new rider Martin Garcia aboard, the 2009 juvenile champion won by three-quarters of a length May 15 at Pimlico.
Attendance of 95,760 represented a 23% gain over 2009 and A total of $79,209,170 was wagered on the 13-race program.
Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver finished eighth in the $1 million event, foiling jockey Calvin Borel's prediction of a Triple Crown sweep.
"When I asked him, he kind of just folded up. It happens," said Borel.
Lookin At Lucky finally got the trip his connections had been hoping for while posting a three-quarter-length victory. The son of Smart Strike had not gotten a clean journey in any of his three races this year, including a troubled sixth-place Derby effort. In an attempt to change his "luck," trainer Bob Baffert replaced regular rider Garrett Gomez with Garcia for the Preakness. It worked out to perfection for the 2-1 second choice.
Baffert earned his fifth Preakness victory with Lookin At Lucky, who is owned by Karl Watson, Mike Pegram, and Paul Weitman. The California-based Garcia was making his debut in the Preakness. He rode Conveyance to a 15th-place finish for Baffert in the Kentucky Derby.
"When they turned for home, he can really finish,'' Baffert said of the winner. "When I saw those red colors making that cruise, I thought, `Oh boy, he's running today.' "
Bred in Kentucky by Gulf Coast Farms, Lookin At Lucky won for the seventh time in 10 starts. A $475,000 Keeneland April 2009 2-year-old-in-training sale purchase, he is out of the Belong to Me mare Private Feeling.
WinStar Farm’s Super Saver, aiming to continue his quest to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978, was sent off as the 19-10 favorite, but tired badly. Trained by Todd Pletcher, the son of Maria’s Mon was in contention to the quarter pole but could not sustain his bid.
Garcia gave Lookin At Lucky the perfect trip in Preakness 135, keeping him mid-pack through the backstretch, but not too far back of pacesetter First Dude, who broke from post 11 and set ambitious opening splits under Ramon Dominguez. The son of Stephen Got Even broke straight for the lead and clicked off fractions of: 22.91 and :46.47, while Super Saver pressed the pace under Borel. Jackson Bend was also up close, as was Caracortado and Yawanna Twist.
After saving ground through the backstretch, Lookin At Lucky was angled away from the rail around the far turn and began to advance on the leader in tandem with Caracortado. Schoolyard Dreams was also moving well when they approached the quarter pole. They ran three-quarters in 1:11.22.
Despite setting quick fractions, First Dude was still going well along the inside when they came off the turn, and he was heads apart with Lookin At Lucky and Caracortado when they straightened away for home. Lookin At Lucky, who was in the four path, put away Caracortado approaching the final furlong and seemed to have the race wrapped up after taking a half-length lead at the eighth pole. But First Dude would not go away along the inside and fought back at the leader past mid-stretch. Yawanna Twist and Jackson Bend desperately closed on Lookin At Lucky in deep stretch but came up short.
Lookin At Lucky hit the wire in a final time of 1:55.47 for the 1 3/16 miles on a fast track, nearly three seconds off the track record set by Farma Way in 1991. First Dude finished a head in front of Jackson Bend, ridden by MIke Smith, for runner-up. Yawanna Twist was fourth in a field of a dozen 3-year-olds.
“I knew the horse outside me (Jackson Bend) had a lot of speed, and I knew that I had to get close to the rail by the first turn; that’s what Baffert told me," Garcia said. "I tried to save the most ground to the first turn. Bob told me after that just do whatever you want. I tried to save ground, and whenever I got a chance I wanted to go outside and I’d get them from there.”
A winner of five out of six starts as a juvenile, Lookin At Lucky clinched his Eclipse Award with a narrow score in the CashCall Futurity (gr. I) at Hollywood Park in December. His 3-year-old campaign began in style too, as he overcame a troubled trip to nail Noble's Promise at the wire in the Rebel Stakes (gr. II) at Oaklawn Park in March.
But the bay colt’s fortunes changed in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) in April, when he was steadied badly around the five-sixteenths-pole en route to a disappointing third-place finish as the odds-on favorite. A month later in the Kentucky Derby his chances were again badly compromised, this time by drawing unenviable post 1, which played a major role in getting him squeezed, then bumped just after the start of the classic.
But the Preakness was a different story, as Lookin At Lucky finally received a trouble-free trip under Garcia from post 7.
"Our luck had to change somehow the way the trips have been," Baffert said. "The draw was so important. I kept seeing seven all day. We went to have breakfast and the number to get my food was seven."
Baffert, who did not say if he would take Lookin At Lucky to the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) in three weeks, won his first Preakness since 2002 when he did it with War Emblem. His other Preakness winners came in 1997 with Silver Charm, 1998 with Real Quiet, and 2001 with Point Given. Baffert's five wins in the second leg of the Triple Crown ties him for second with D. Wayne Lukas. It was the Hall of Famer's ninth win in a Triple Crown race.
Garcia came to the United States in 2003, working at a deli in the San Francisco Bay area. The owner of the shop introduced him to a former jockey, who got him a job as an exercise rider even though he had no experience.
Two years later he became a jockey, but continued to cook two days a week at the deli in a show of gratitude. He moved to Southern California a year later and gradually found success on the ultra-competitive circuit. His most important new connection was Baffert.
"He came out here today and he was so cool and calm," the trainer said. "He rode a perfect race. Martin can get a horse to settle really well, and I could see he had the horse in a nice rhythm."
The race looked good for Super Saver, too, in the early stages. But turning for home, he came up empty.
"He ran so hard in the Derby,'' Borel said. "He's not a big horse."
Pletcher blamed the two-week Derby turnaround to the Preakness for the horse's tiring effort.
"He tried hard. It was a little quick for him," he said. "I wouldn't trade the Derby for anything. We got the one we wanted the most."
Sent off as the second choice, Lookin At Lucky paid $6.80, $4.60, and $3.80. First Dude, sent off at 23-1, returned $16.60 and $9.20, and helped fill out a $188.60 exacta. Jackson Bend was $6.60 to show and completed a trifecta payout of $2,771.
Lookin At Lucky earned $600,000 for the win and has now banked $2,113,000.
Trainer Dale Romans was not surprised that First Dude, who ran third in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I), ran such a big race.
“First Dude is a serious, confident, aggressive horse who can compete with the best," Romans said. "He ran super. Ramon said he didn’t want to give up the lead. He kept his path. He just couldn’t hold off the winner. I’ll talk to the owner and we’ll discuss whether to go a mile and a half (Belmont Stakes)."