Sports Outside the Beltway

Lookin At Lucky Wins Preakness, Triple Crown To Remain Vacant For Another Year

16preakness04-articleLargeIt was a perfect day for horse racing in Baltimore yesterday, and a great day to be Lookin At Lucky:

BALTIMORE — He is a kid. Martin Garcia has been in this country for less than seven years and looks at the United States with a sense of wonder, whether from behind the counter of a Northern California delicatessen or now, through his racing goggles atop a thundering racehorse. On Saturday, as he led Lookin at Lucky onto the track for the Preakness Stakes, Garcia let loose a smile that would have been blinding atop a lighthouse.

Garcia drank in the pretty hats and the sports coats that dotted the grandstand at historic Pimlico. He took in the raucous infield, with its bleary-eyed revelers lifting their plastic mugs.

Behind him, Calvin Borel was stone-faced, crouched over Super Saver, the winner of the Kentucky Derby, and looking as if the weight of his Triple Crown aspirations had caved him in.

Not Garcia, 25. He was as happy as he was the night last week when the trainer Bob Baffert told him he would replace Garrett Gomez on Lookin at Lucky for this race. Garcia stayed up all night tickled by the possibilities.

Garcia had loved Lookin at Lucky ever since the first time he sat on the colt’s back for a workout last year.

For months, he worked Lookin at Lucky, last year’s 2-year-old champion, in the mornings only to hand him over to Gomez in the afternoons. Unfortunately for Baffert, Gomez had anything but luck with the colt in one troubled trip after another.

After Gomez and the colt were bounced around in the Derby and staggered in a hard-used sixth place, Baffert decided to make a change for the Preakness. Lookin at Lucky became Garcia’s mount.

When Garcia showed up in the paddock before the race and rattled off one “thank you” after another, Baffert wondered if his rider was perhaps unfocused and not ready to race.

“I think he’s so young, he doesn’t understand the magnitude of this race,” said Baffert, a Hall of Famer.

As Garcia loped Lookin at Lucky down the backstretch, however, Baffert’s doubts began to ease. His young jockey had listened to his instructions.

“I told him once you make the turn, you can’t be more than three paths off the rail,” Baffert said.

Garcia did as he was told. Now, he had the colt rolling like a riverboat, and Baffert was starting to feel pretty smart.

“I could see he had the horse in a nice rhythm,” Baffert said

Borel and Super Saver, on the other hand, were working hard and not looking all that comfortable chasing the long shot, First Dude, through a fast half-mile of 46.47 seconds, and a withering six furlongs of 1 minute 11.22 seconds.

And yes, First Dude was, at least in part,  named after Todd Palin. First Dude’s mother ? Run Sarah Run.

On a more serious note, yesterday’s result means that, once again, there will be no Triple Crown winner this year. The last time it happened was in 1978 when Affirmed completed the task only a year after Seattle Slew had done it. This is already the longest gap between Triple Crown winners in history, the previous record being the twenty-five years between Citation and Secretariat.

It’s not surprising, really, winning three of the toughest races in horse racing is a difficult enough task in itself, and it’s become even harder as horse breeding has become a more exact science. There are a lot of good, fast horses out there, and it’s harder for just one of them to dominate the sport the way that others did in the past. There will probably be a Triple Crown winner someday, but its going to have to be one heck of a horse that accomplishes the task.

Bill Jempty Update- Lookin at Lucky’s Trainer Bob Baffert has announced that Lucky won’t race in the Belmont Stakes. Baffert said if Lucky was going for the Triple Crown, he’d enter the horse. Instead he will give a colt a rest. Last year’s Preakness winner, Rachel Alexandra, didn’t race in the Belmont either.

I understand the decision made by Baffert. Lookin at Lucky has little to gain from running in the Belmont(The endurance race of the Triple Crown. It is a mile and a half in length) and there is always the element of risk. Race horses are very fragile animals. Case in point, 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro. One bad step can lead to them needing to be destroyed. Maybe these races should be more spread out to encourage horses to race in all three. The Harness and Trotting Triple Crowns aren’t raced in just five weeks.


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