Lookin At Lucky gets up late to take the Rebel Stakes.

Lookin At Lucky gets up late to take the Rebel Stakes.

Coady Photography

Lookin At Lucky Starts Year With Rebel Nod

Bob Baffert-trained champion colt wins with blinkers in his first try on dirt.

Favored Lookin At Lucky , trying blinkers and dirt for the first time in his 2010 debut, won the $300,000 Rebel Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO) in a courageous effort at Oaklawn Park March 13. His late bid produced a neck victory over the stubborn Noble's Promise .

Ridden by Garrett Gomez, last year' s juvenile male champion had a rough trip, bumping at the start and brushing heels with the runner-up at the half-mile marker. But he still managed to get into contention with a four-wide move on the final turn and closed relentlessly through the lane as Noble's Promise took control at the eighth pole. Lookin At Lucky, third at that point, gained the nod in the final strides. The winning time was 1:43.06 for the 1 1/16-mile distance on a fast track.

Lookin At Lucky earned his sixth win in seven starts for owners Karl Watson, Mike Pegram, and Paul Weitman. Winning trainer Bob Baffert billed the Rebel as an experiment for his accomplished star. A three-time grade I winner on synthetic tracks at 2, Baffert decided to go to Arkansas to see how the Smart Strike colt would handle the dirt, as well as blinkers, in anticipation of the May 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).

“He passed all the tests,” Baffert said. “I wanted to prep him for the next one. I didn’t want to run him off the screen today. Even if he had run second it would have been OK.”

Baffert said Lookin At Lucky would likely next race in the Wood Memorial (gr. I) at Aqueduct on April 3 or the Arkansas Derby (gr. I) a week later.

“That last prep is the main thing … but you’re not safe until you put that saddle on and hear `My Old Kentucky Home,”’ he said.

Royal Express, after being bothered at the start, was hustled to the front and set a realistic pace, carving quarter-mile fractions of :23.64, :47.70, and 1:12.35 before giving way. Noble's Promise, stalking in the second flight of horses, was never far behind the leaders, getting the lead approaching mid-stretch and shaking loose in the final furlong. He dug in well for jockey Robby Albarado, but could not hold off the oncoming Lookin At Lucky, who raced in fifth for the first six furlongs and had to recover from his bump on the backstretch with Noble' Promise.

“I didn’t know how a young horse would react to that, but mine dug back like a real professional,” Gomez said. “Coming to the wire, I thought we’d get the other horse, even though mine was tiring. This race will really help my colt.”

Watching a replay of the stretch run, Baffert laughed as his horse dug in beneath Gomez.

“Right here he is saying `Dammit, Bob, I wish you would have trained me harder for this,”’ Baffert said.

Noble's Promise finished just behind Lookin at Lucky for the third consecutive time. Dublin, who weakened in the final furlong after a wide trip under Corey Nakatani, wound up third, three lengths behind Noble's Promise. The first three finishers are all grade I winners.

Dublin, a son of Afleet Alex who finished second in the Southwest Stakes (gr. III) at Oaklawn in his prior start, struggled to within a length of the lead and then faded.

“My colt got tired, but we will fight again another day, like the first Saturday in May,” Nakatani said.

This was the first start for Lookin at Lucky, who is one of the early Derby favorites, since he wrapped up juvenile division honors with a three-quarters of a length win over Noble's Promise in the CashCall Futurity (gr. I) at Hollywood Park Dec. 19. Lookin at Lucky's only loss came by a head to Vale of York in the Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) at Santa Anita Nov. 7.

The Rebel's winning purse of $180,000 boosted Lookin at Lucky's career earnings to $1,423,000.

“This is as close as you can get to Churchill Downs. It’s nice to run on dirt. Then you know what you have,” said Baffert, a three-time Derby winner.

The race gave him a sense of Churchill, too, he said.

“He almost had a Kentucky Derby-type experience getting bounced around,” Baffert said. “I wanted him to do what he did today. Except for him almost falling down, he did well. It’s not me. It’s the horse. It’s like a coach with a great player.”

Bred in Kentucky by Gulf Coast Farms, Lookin at Lucky was sold for $475,000 at Keeneland last April. The bay colt is out of Private Feeling, by Belong to Me.

Lookin at Lucky shared the high weight assignment of 119 pounds with the runner-up and paid $4.20, $2.80, and $2.20 as the 11-10 choice. Noble's Promise, winner of the Breeders' Futurity Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland in October for trainer Ken McPeek, returned $4 and $2.60 and rounded out a $14.60 exacta. The Wayne Lukas-trained Dublin, who captured the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga in September, was worth $2.40 to show as the second choice.

It was 3 3/4 lengths to fourth-place finisher Uh Oh Bango. He was followed by Cardiff Giant, Pleasant Storm and Royal Express.