Heavy favorite Lookin At Lucky wrapped up divisional honors as the nation's top 2-year-old and heads into 2010 as the leading Triple Crown contender after his solid win in the $750,000 CashCall Futurity (gr. I) at Hollywood Park Dec. 19 (VIDEO).
Ridden by Garrett Gomez, the son of Smart Strike racing in the familiar red and yellow colors of Mike Pegram gave trainer Bob Baffert his record fifth win in the Futurity, surpassing the mark he formerly held with D. Wayne Lukas. Baffert also notched his fourth win on the Hollywood Park program, all with 2-year-olds.
"A hell of a day, huh?," Baffert said with a laugh after his first four-bagger at Hollywood Park. "It's nice to have young horses."
Lookin At Lucky, racing along the inside, overtook stablemate The Program at the top of the lane. The bay colt held off second choice Noble's Promise through the final furlong, winning by three-quarters of a length with plenty left in the tank after completing the 1 1/16-mile journey in 1:43.30 on Hollywood's Cushion Track.
"He ran a little bit different," Baffert noted. "(Gomez) put him into the race this time, put him on the pace. That's good for him. He didn't have to do a lot. He just cruised around there and you could tell he was in a good spot. That's probably his best race."
Sent off at 1-5 odds against six rivals, Lookin At Lucky won for the fifth time in six starts this year, including three grade I triumphs. His only loss this year came in a much-troubled trip against English raider Vale of York in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) across town at Santa Anita Park. Noble's Promise finished third in that race.
Lookin At Lucky broke well from his rail post but Gomez had a firm hold on the favorite as The Program took control with Brady Blue Eyes and Noble's Promise stalking. Noble's Promise, ridden by Rafael Bejarano, was a bit wide on the clubhouse turn and on the backstretch as Lookin At Lucky continued to tug hard. Heading into the far turn, Lookin at Lucky settled down while increasing the pressure on The Program, who posted moderate quarter-mile fractions of :24.03, :48.30, and 1:13.12.
With Noble's Promise poised in position three-wide rounding the bend, Lookin At Lucky bid for the lead at the rail to gain a slight advantage. Under vigorous handling from Gomez, Lookin At Lucky edged away to lead by more than a length through the drive and was safely home over a game Noble's Promise in the final stages.
"I've always known he was versatile and (we) could do whatever we want with him," said Gomez, who has ridden Lookin at Lucky in all of his races. "He was traveling super easy when we turned for home. He just waits on horses and only does as much as he has to.
"When I turned for home, he quickened for about 100 yards and then went into relax mode. He always looks like he's stretched to win, but that's not the case. He's full of talent, and I'm getting even more excited about him."
Noble's Promise, from the Ken McPeek barn, finished a half-length ahead of the late-running maiden Make Music for Me, who rallied from last on the turn under Mike Smith to take third at odds of 28-1. The Baffert trainees The Program and Marcello were next, followed by Brady Blue Eyes and Seattle Ruler.
Lookin At Lucky surpassed the $1-million mark in purses. He earned $400,000 for the victory, boosting his seasonal total to $1,243,00. The winner, out of the Belong to Me mare Private Feeling, was bred in Kentucky by Gulf Coast Farms and was purchased for $450,000 at Keeneland in April as a 2-year-old in training.
After breaking his maiden in his debut at six furlongs at Hollywood in July, Lookin At Lucky reeled off victories in Del Mar's Best Pal (gr. II) and Del Mar Futurity (gr. I) this summer before capturing Oak Tree's Norfolk Stakes (gr. I) Oct. 4.
He went into the BC Juvenile as the favorite, but drew the unlucky 13 post. He had to overcome traffic and a late bump to rally from 10th in the 1 1/16-mile test, and was beaten by just a head in a very strong performance.
"I just wish he had the one-post in the Breeders' Cup, but that's racing. Things happen," Baffert said. "So we're going to freshen him up and I'll probably run him two times before (the Kentucky Derby). I don't know where; I haven't figured it out. He might ship out, I don't know. Either go to Oaklawn Park or New York, you never know. I've got a lot of nice horses and I've got to spread them all out (to earn purse money to be eligible for the Derby)."
Baffert also won on the Hollywood program with 2-year-olds Quiet Invader, Tiz Chrome, and Clutch Player. His prior Futurity wins came with Real Quiet (1997) and Captain Steve (1999), both for Pegram, and Point Given (2000) and Pioneerof the Nile last year.
Lookin At Lucky rewarded his backers with a payoff of $2.60, $2.10 and $2.10, topping a $4.20 exacta.
Noble's Promise ($2.40, $2.10) had to overcome a wide trip this time, but rallied four-wide into the stretch and finished powerfully to land the place spot, which was worth $150,000. Noble's Promise, who also ran a huge race in the BC Juvenile, losing by a half-length after leading in the stretch, won Keeneland's Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) this fall.
"My horse came running to the end; he never quit," Bejarano said. "(Lookin At Lucky) had a better post and that really helped him. I know I can beat him next time."
Make Music for Me, trained by Alexis Barba, posted his third in-the-money performance this year behind Lookin at Lucky. He paid $3.40 to show.
"I was very, very pleased," Smith said. "I loved the way he galloped out. There's certainly more to him."
Wildlee Special scratched.