Lookin At Lucky Best Bet
To Surprise Eskendereya
By JOHN P. WISE
One Great Season
Just when you think it's finally Todd Pletcher's year to win a Kentucky Derby, Bob Baffert of all people looks like he might have something to say about it.
Pletcher, a four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer who's missed on all 24 of his Derby entries, will start -- among possibly seven of his horses -- everybody's fave Eskendereya in the 136th run for the roses at Louisville's historic Churchill Downs on May 1.
Everybody except Baffert, that is.
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If most agree this is Pletcher's best chance to break through and take a memorable walk to the winner's circle around 6:30 p.m. that evening, then most probably agree that Baffert's Lookin At Lucky is the horse most likely to play the spoiler role.
Baffert, the silver-haired charmer who's won three of his own Eclipse Awards as the sport's top trainer, also has three Derby wins, by the way. And in each of those years -- 1997, 1998, 2002 -- he went on to win the Preakness two weeks later, setting up what turned out to be failed bids to complete the Triple Crown at the Belmont Stakes.
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Baffert is all too familiar with the roles of both upstart and heavy favorite. In 2001, his Point Given was supposed to dominate the Derby, but Monarchos surprised everyone not only by upsetting the field, but by doing so in blistering fashion. Monarchos covered the 1 1/4 miles in 1:59.97, the second-fastest Derby time ever, winning by nearly five lengths. Point Given went on to win the remaining legs of the Triple Crown, but that's like beating the Cavs with LeBron sitting and Shaq recovering.
The following year, without a prohibitive Derby favorite, many expected Harlan's Holiday or Medaglia d'Oro to take the roses. Whomever it was, few were expecting Baffert's War Emblem to lead wire to wire and even find another late gear to finish in 2:01.13, the ninth-fastest time ever. In style typical of a Baffert horse, War Emblem took the Preakness but disappointed in the Belmont.
So in just a few short weeks, after you place your safe $2-across bet on Eskendereya, don't forget to put some money down on Lookin At Lucky. To win. Six triumphs in eight starts (should have been seven but was asked to start at No. 13 in the November Breeders' Cup Juvenile), including a win on dirt at last month's Rebel Stakes (after a three-month layoff), make this horse a smart bet. After a bumpy showing at last week's Santa Anita Derby, Lookin at Lucky will be well rested before the first Saturday in May.
Also of note: Nearly $1.5 million in graded stakes earnings already this year is more than double the second winningest horse, Ken McPeek's Noble's Promise.