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(Photo : The Rail - Footage : NBC Sports)
WHAT’S LUCK GOT TO DO WITH IT?
Lookin At Lucky (Smart Strike) endured difficult trips this season when third in the GI Santa Anita Derby and sixth last time out in the GI Kentucky Derby. His athleticism and raw talent allowed him to overcome trouble to win the GII Rebel Stakes in his seasonal debut back in March. In trying to change his luck, trainer Bob Baffert, already a four-time winner of the GI Preakness Stakes, made the audacious decision to sack champion jockey Garrett Gomez in favor of the upstart Martin Garcia. Instructed to keep his mount clear of any possible trouble, the 25 year-old rider settled Lookin At Lucky in centerfield and three wide, rallied four wide into the stretch and outgamed First Dude (Stephen Got Even) for a well deserved victory.
All eyes were on WinStar Farms’ Super Saver (Maria’s Mon), who was looking to become the eighth horse since 1997 to head to New York with a Triple Crown shot. He was sent off the public’s 19-10 favorite to do so, while Lookin At Lucky, who endured a nightmarish opening quarter mile in Louisville a fortnight ago and did exceedingly well to finish sixth, was the clear second choice to rebound at $2.40-1. First Dude, coming off a third in the GI Toyota Blue Grass Stakes April 10, made a favorable impression during his morning trackwork at Pimlico, and won the break to set a strong pace with Super Saver, reverting to pace-pressing tactics, close up in second.
Jackson Bend (Hear No Evil) wasn’t far away in third, while California raider Caracortado (Cat Dreams) raced in fourth through the early exchanges, just ahead of Lookin At Lucky. “I was trying to save as much ground as I could into the first turn,” Martin Garcia explained. “After that, [trainer] Bob [Baffert] told me to do what I wanted.” Further back in the field were GII Illinois Derby runner-up Yawanna Twist (Yonaguska), Kentucky Derby third Paddy O’Prado (El Prado) and Schoolyard Dreams (Stephen Got Even), runner-up earlier this year in the GIII Tampa Bay Derby.
First Dude got his opening quarter mile in a testing 0:22.91 and was nary allowed to take a deep breath, with the Derby winner hounding him through a half-mile in a strong 0:46.47. Midway up the backstretch, Garcia had eased Lookin At Lucky into about the three path and clear of any potential disaster, then asked his colt to go at the half-mile pole. He shifted out into the four path for the run around the far turn and set his sights on First Dude, who was still plugging away and looking dangerous on the front end. With Garcia busy at work, imploring his mount with a right handed stick to the colt’s right shoulder, Lookin At Lucky edged past a stubborn First Dude just north of the eighth pole and outslugged his rival to the wire. Jackson Bend just missed the place spot, while Yawanna Twist was a clear fourth.
Bob Baffert got to know Pimlico’s infield winner’s circle very well, winning the Preakness four times in the span of six years, but yesterday’s score was his first since War Emblem (Our Emblem) wore the Black-Eyed Susans in 2002. Winning never loses its luster, the silver-haired conditioner admits. “It’s just as exciting,” he offered. “I know it’s been a few years. I mean, this was a different kind of win - this was more of a redemption win. This horse is such a warrior. He wants to win; he tries so hard. So I wanted to win it for the horse, you know, ‘cause he tries so hard every time. I mean, the Derby, he had that rough trip. Santa Anita Derby, rough trip. But, you know, every time he had those rough trips, he came back. He’s got a great mind. He’s a cool horse He’s just a really great athlete. I mean, he’s one of the best horses I’ve ever had.”
“It’s amazing. He’s still a baby. He’s so immature. He’s not even three years old yet. His birthday is May 27th. He’s just starting to grow right now.” Baffert indicated that a decision on a run in the GI Belmont Stakes June 5 would come over the next several days.
Calvin Borel predicted a Triple Crown winner in the afterglow of Super Saver’s Derby win, but, for the 33rd straight year, there will be no series sweep. In the end, it was too much, too soon. “It was an honest pace with First Dude hanging in there,” trainer Todd Pletcher commented. “Coming off a huge effort in the Derby, the two weeks was too short. When they went to the far turn, you could see that Calvin was squeezing and asking him to go get that horse, and he just couldn’t do it. He hung in there. He kept fighting. He tried hard. It was back a little quick for him. Now we’ve got time to come back for a big summer.”
Extract from Thoroughbred Daily News