Karl Watson, Michael E. Pegram and Paul Weitman's LOOKIN AT LUCKY (Smart Strike) finally got a clean trip in Saturday's $1 million Preakness S. (G1) at Pimlico and gutted out a three-quarter length victory over pacesetter First Dude (Stephen Got Even) in the 1 3/16-mile test. Trainer Bob Baffert pulled a jockey switch, giving a leg up to Martin Garcia aboard the juvenile champion after Garrett Gomez had ridden the colt in his prior nine starts, and Lookin at Lucky stopped the clock under his new rider in 1:55 2/5.
"Our luck had to change somehow the way the trips have been," Baffert said. "Martin, he came out here today and he was so cool and calm. He rode a perfect race. I'm just so proud that I brought him in here in front of the owners Mike Pegram, (Karl) Watson, and (Paul) Weitman.
"I heard people say (Lookin at Lucky) gets in trouble because maybe he's not that good. But we've been so hard on this horse. Today, when I saw Martin hit that wire, I was so happy for that horse."
Attendance increased by 23 percent as a crowd of 95,760 witnessed rising star Garcia ride his first winner in a Triple Crown race and Hall of Famer Baffert receive the Woodlawn Vase for the fifth time. A total of $79,209,170 was wagered on the 13-race program.
Garcia kept Lookin at Lucky in the two path rounding the first turn, but allowed the bay colt to settle wide on the outside while racing in midpack on the backstretch. In the meantime, First Dude set a quick opening split of :22 4/5 before slowing things down a bit through a half in :46 2/5. Jackson Bend (Hear No Evil) was sitting in close attendance to the leader down on the inside, while Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Super Saver (Maria's Mon) raced just to the outside of First Dude.
Garcia began urging Lookin at Lucky on nearing the final turn, and the gleaming colt pulled himself even with the First Dude as Super Saver faded entering the lane. Jackson Bend found himself blocked for a brief moment in the stretch run, but swung out and put in a game rally, but Lookin at Lucky would not be denied on this day, overtaking a gusty First Dude to score his second win of the year.
"The whole key is the first turn here," Baffert said. "It's tricky; it's treacherous. I told (Garcia) once you make the turn you can't be more than three (paths) off the rail. Once you get to the backside, then you're on your own, and if you have horse, you'll get there. I saw the pace and it was really quick. Martin can get a horse to settle really well, and I could see he had the horse in a nice rhythm.
"This horse really likes to run the turns, so I didn't really feel confident until when he got to about two and a half (lengths away). I was watching those red colors. When I saw those red colors making that cruise, I thought, 'Oh boy, he's running today.'"
"I knew the horse outside me (Jackson Bend) had a lot of speed, and I knew that I had to get close to the rail by the first turn -- that's what Baffert told me," Garcia said. "I tried to save the most ground to the first turn. Bob told me after that just do whatever you want. I tried to save ground, and whenever I got a chance I wanted to go outside and I'd get them from there."
Lookin at Lucky paid $6.80, $4.60 and $3.80 as the near 5-2 second choice while keying the $188.60 exacta, $2,771 trifecta and $34,252 superfecta (7-11-6-5). First Dude just held second by a head over Jackson Bend, giving back $16.60 and $9.20 as the 23-1 10th choice in the 12-horse field. Jackson Bend suffered his first off-the-board finish in the Kentucky Derby but returned to form here when finishing third at 11-1. The chestnut returned $6.60 for overtaking Yawanna Twist (Yonaguska) on the wire.
Dublin (Afleet Alex), who headed straight toward the grandstand when the gates opened, managed to recover and finished fifth. Paddy O'Prado (El Prado [Ire]), Caracortado (Cat Dreams), Super Saver, Schoolyard Dreams (Stephen Got Even), Aikenite (Yes It's True), Pleasant Prince (Indy King) and Northern Giant (Giant's Causeway) completed the order under the wire.
Like Jackson Bend, Lookin at Lucky had never finished out of the money until running in the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago. Knocked into the rail repeatedly in the early going of the 1 1/4-mile classic, the sophomore managed to put in enough of a run to finish sixth in the 20-horse field. Lookin at Lucky opened the year with a head victory in the Rebel S. (G2) at Oaklawn Park, but suffered trouble in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) prior to the Run for the Roses, winding up third on the line.
Lookin at Lucky was voted the Eclipse Award winner as champion two-year-old following a near unbeaten 2009 season. Breaking his maiden in his initial try last July at Hollywood Park, the bay gradually increased the distance he ran in each of his subsequent starts, adding victories in the 6 1/2-furlong Best Pal S. (G2), seven-furlong Del Mar Futurity (G1), 1 1/16-mile Norfolk S. (G1) and 1 1/16-mile CashCall Futurity (G1) to his resume. Another troubled trip cost Lookin at Lucky the score in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1), as he was just a head back of the winner on that day, and his line now reads 10-7-1-1.
"It was time for some luck," co-owner Weitman said. "We had it. We had the good draw. The horse was ready. Bobby had the horse ready. As you know, Martin did a wonderful job of riding. It was our time. It happened today. I thought he was capable of it all along, but somewhere along the line in sports, you can't keep using excuses; you have to win."
Bred in Kentucky by Gulf Coast Farm LLC, Lookin at Lucky RNAed for $35,000 as a Keeneland September yearling before selling to Pegram for $475,000 as a Keeneland April two-year-old. He's more than earned back his purchase price, having banked $2,113,000 lifetime.
Lookin at Lucky is the third registered foal out of the winning Private Feeling (Belong to Me) and counts as an older half-brother last year's Jim Dandy S. (G2) and Dwyer S. (G2) winner Kensei (Mr. Greeley), who ran second in his seasonal bow in the Duncan F. Kenner S. The 11-year-old mare has also produced an unnamed yearling colt by Afleet Alex and a 2010 Mr. Greeley colt.
Private Feeling, who is out of the stakes-placed Regal Feeling (Clever Trick), counts as a half-sister Grade 3 queen Grand Charmer (Lord Avie), the granddam of 2006 champion three-year-old filly and multiple Grade 1 queen Wait a While (Maria's Mon), an earner of more than $2.1 million on track. Lookin at Lucky's third dam is Grade 1 winner Sharp Belle (Native Charger), and this is the same family as 1987 Irish Derby (Ire-G1) winner Sir Harry Lewis (Alleged).