BALTIMORE — Bob Baffert is looking for good omens anywhere he can.
So it wasn’t lost on the Hall of Fame trainer that he won two races at Hollywood Park the other day from the No. 7 hole. That’s the same spot in the starting gate Lookin At Lucky drew for Saturday’s Preakness.
Baffert hopes things may be looking up for the colt who’s had anything but luck in his last three races, including a sixth-place finish as the beaten favourite in the Kentucky Derby. Nearly two weeks ago, Lookin At Lucky drew the No. 1 post and got shuffled back coming out of the gate in the 20-horse field.
An improved post position isn’t the only thing different for Lookin At Lucky in the Preakness, where he’s the 3-1 second choice behind Derby winner Super Saver in the 12-horse field. He’s getting a new rider, too, in Martin Garcia.
Baffert parted company with veteran Garrett Gomez in favour of Garcia, a 25-year-old from Mexico who has been riding since 2005. He’s only exercised the colt in the morning and will be riding him in a race for the first time.
“Everywhere I send him, he wins for me,” Baffert said Thursday. “He’s a kid who’s progressed quickly. He’s got raw talent.”
The idea of changing riders came up in a conversation between Baffert and Mike Pegram, his longtime buddy who co-owns Lookin At Lucky, last year’s two-year-old champion.
“He was like, ’We need to change our luck,”’ Baffert said, leaning back on a white fence outside the stakes barn at Pimlico. “Our mojo wasn’t working.”
Gomez has ridden Lookin At Lucky in all nine of his starts, and Baffert said the parting was amicable.
On Saturday, Gomez will be aboard 10-1 shot Dublin, trying to win a sixth Preakness for trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Dublin was seventh under Terry Thompson in the Derby.
“I talked to Garrett and said, ’You guys find another horse. If I do decide to run, I may make a switch to change my luck,”’ said Baffert, who waited a week after the Derby to announce Lookin At Lucky would try the Preakness. “Sometimes a horse and rider just aren’t in sync. If I’m going to come here, I want to do something different.”
A year ago, the Preakness was the scene of an unprecedented jockey switch. Calvin Borel did the unthinkable, getting off Derby winner Mine That Bird to ride filly Rachel Alexandra, who beat the boys. Mine That Bird finished second with Mike Smith.
Borel switched back to Mine That Bird for the Belmont, finishing third in the final leg of the Triple Crown.
This time, Borel is sticking with the horse that got him to Pimlico. He’s even boasted that Super Saver will win the Triple Crown.
“He’s a really, really good fit for this colt,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “He’s got a light touch and it seems the colt relaxes well for him. There is a lot of good chemistry between the two of them.”
Borel’s rail-hugging ride in the Derby — his third win in four years using his patented style — caught Baffert’s attention.
“My focus changed on Calvin,” he said. “It’s amazing what he’s done.”
Baffert will get a close-up view of Borel since Lookin At Lucky and Super Saver will be neighbours in the starting gate. Lookin At Lucky landed in the, ahem, lucky No. 7 post, while Super Saver breaks from the No. 8 spot.
“We’ve got another chance at maybe redeeming ourselves,” he said.
Lookin At Lucky’s draw greatly relieved Pegram and Baffert, who was only half-kidding when he said he would scratch the colt if he again ended up on the rail.
“I’m feeling good,” Pegram said, smiling.
The most Preakness winners have come from post position 6, the last time in 2004 with Smarty Jones. The last winner from No. 7 was Big Brown two years ago; Bernardini was the last winner out of No. 8 in 2006.
Lookin At Lucky’s streak of misfortune began in his season debut in the Rebel at Oaklawn Park.
He got banged up while winning and returned to California with cuts. Then he got squeezed along the rail and lost all momentum in the Santa Anita Derby, but rallied to finish third.
“He hasn’t had a chance to run. I want to be able to watch Lookin At Lucky and see what he’s made of,” Baffert said. “He’s a bit of a warrior. He’s trying to get there. Most horses would be giving up.”