Could Oaklawn Park be living on Tulsa time April 15?
Tulsa native John Oxley owns champion Classic Empire, who will headline the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1), the country's final major prep for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) May 6 at Churchill Downs. Lookin At Lee, also scheduled to run in the April 15 Arkansas Derby, is owned by Tulsa-based L and N Racing, a four-man partnership headed by the colt's namesake, Lee Levinson.
Although L and N Racing didn't start its first horse until June 2015, the partnership has already hit a home run in Lookin At Lee, who was purchased for $70,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale.
A son of two-time Eclipse Award-winner Lookin At Lucky , Lookin At Lee is a stakes winner who has bankrolled $352,795 and made his past five starts in graded stakes company, including a fourth behind Classic Empire in the $2 million Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) Nov. 5 at Santa Anita Park.
"We're just having so much fun with him, too," said Lee Levinson's son Michael, L and N Racing's stable manager. "Who would have thought we would have been in the Breeders' Cup and now we've got a shot to go to the Kentucky Derby. Every race we're racing for huge purses and running in the biggest races. It's just a blast right now."
Michael Levinson said his father owned horses approximately 25 years ago but didn't have the financial resources to "do it like he wanted to." Lee Levinson, 66, is an attorney, but has other business interests, including an oil and gas company that Michael Levinson helps run.
"He's been real fortunate now, so we decided to jump back in," Michael Levinson said of ownership.
Lee Levinson put together the partnership, which includes another son, Andy, and longtime family friend Don Nelson of nearby Mannford, Okla., the "N" in the stable name.
L and N Racing's first horse, Smart Pioneer, needed 11 starts to break his maiden. The 4-year-old gelded son of Pioneerof the Nile finished fourth against Oklahoma-breds in a first-level allowance race March 29 at Will Rogers Downs in suburban Tulsa.
"He didn't pan out as well as we thought he was going to," Michael Levinson said. "We had bought that colt before the American Pharoah craze, so afterwards we were really excited about that one--got a taste of how hard it is to win-type thing."
Levinson said L and N Racing began seriously building its stable at the 2015 Keeneland September yearling sale and now has approximately 13 horses in training, including a half-dozen 2-year-olds and 3-year-olds.
L and N Racing purchased a Malibu Moon colt, Waitin On Will, for $135,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Gulfstream sale of 2-year-olds in training March 1 and a 2-year-old colt from the first crop of 2013 Kentucky Derby winner Orb for $100,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling sale last summer.
The Orb colt, Orbatron, has had his first two works at Keeneland, most recently covering three furlongs April 8 in :39 1/5.
Levinson said L and N Racing also has two 2-year-olds (a colt and filly) by super sire Uncle Mo .
"We've got really good horses, so we're hoping some of these 2-year-olds coming up will have the same luck as Lookin At Lee," Levinson said.
Steve Asmussen, inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame last August, is L and N Racing's primary trainer. Levinson said his father met Asmussen through longtime friend and Tulsa attorney Clark Brewster, who has had horses with the trainer for many years.
"Just made the most sense to give Steve a shot," Michael Levinson said. "We think the world of Steve, and he's done a great job."
Bred in Kentucky by Ray Hanson, Lookin At Lee broke his maiden sprinting July 22 at Ellis Park (L and N Racing's first victory), then captured the $75,000 Ellis Park Juvenile Stakes Aug. 6 in his next start (L and N Racing's first stakes score).
It's been nothing but graded stakes events since for Lookin At Lee, who was second to the now-retired Not This Time in the $150,000 Iroquois Stakes (G3) Sept. 17 at Churchill Downs, second to Classic Empire in the $500,000 Claiborne Breeders' Futurity (G1) Oct. 8 at Keeneland, fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, third behind unbeaten One Liner in the $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 20, and sixth behind unbeaten Malagacy in the $900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 18 at Oaklawn.
Lookin At Lee, a deep closer, was beaten only 3 3/4 lengths in the Rebel, which is the final major local prep for the Arkansas Derby. His last five starts have been at 1 1/16 miles, but his connections believe he will benefit from the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby distance.
"I think we're feeling pretty good," said Levinson, who named Lookin At Lee. "We're glad the races are finally starting to stretch out for us. Obviously you watch the races and he just needs more ground."