“The best horse won,” writes Andrew Beyer, who picked Lookin at Lucky for the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes and must have been pleased when the colt took the second leg of the Triple Crown by three-quarters of a length in a time of 1:55.47, good for a Beyer speed figure of 102 (replay). Trainer Bob Baffert certainly was, telling Claire Novak after the race:
“This was a different kind of win,” he said. “This was 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, because he tries so hard every time. It’s easy to lose a little faith in him … I heard people say he gets in trouble because maybe he’s not that good. So today, when I saw Martin hit that wire, I was so happy for that horse.”
Sweet vindication, and not only for believing in his horse after all the troubles of Lucky’s last three races, but for making a rider switch from Garrett Gomez to Martin Garcia. “They have been winning at a steady, phenomenal 32 percent clip,” writes John Scheinman of the Baffert-Garcia combo, “and whatever magic the two have between them is alchemic.”
There was no magic for Gomez in the Preakness, riding Dublin for trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Post position 12 proved as disastrous as Lukas anticipated when entries were drawn. Explained the rider:
“The first three jumps were not good. He tried to go into the gap and made a right turn with me. When I straightened him, they were all gone and we were pretty much out of it.”
Dublin finished fifth after he exited the gate veering outside. You could say the break cost him the race; he ran the first quarter more than 18 lengths off the lead in a dismal :26 flat. He then ran the second in :23.29, the third in :23.73, and wrapped up in :43.44. All of those times were faster than Lookin at Lucky’s (faster, in fact, than any of the top four finishers). Lucky closed in :43.81 after running splits of :23.45, :23.87, and :24.34. What most struck me, though, looking at the fractions, is how much Dublin’s Preakness run looks like Ice Box’s Derby run, and that the difference in how their finishes are being perceived is a great example of the strength of the visual impact made by a runner-up appearing to close swiftly on a leader in the final yards of a race, compared to an also-ran finishing out of the money.
Both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners will skip the Belmont Stakes, which is lousy news for NYRA, an organization that could use a little financial boost. Baffert said that Lookin at Lucky would be prepped for the Haskell Invitational Stakes on August 1, while trainer Todd Pletcher indicated that Super Saver would be freshened for a late summer return. The Derby winner, apparently looking drawn on Saturday, finished eighth as the 9-5 favorite. “What are you gonna do? It was the two weeks,” said Pletcher.
Or is it that this crop of 3-year-olds isn’t so hot? “You have to wonder about the quality of the group,” says Michael Veitch. Yes, you do, when watching the juvenile champion grind out a short lead over a maiden winner to take the Preakness, and the Derby winner wilts at a mile to finish worse than any other at Pimlico since Monarchos in 2001. Two-thirds of the way through the spring classic season, it’s hard not to think about what could have been: “[I]f Eskendereya had stayed sound,” speculates Steve Crist, “we might well be looking at a runaway Derby-Preakness winner going for a Crown this year.” Watch the Wood Memorial replay if you doubt.