Monday, April 5, 2010

Lookin at Lucky could be a Derby Day value

Gloom, despair and agony on me;

No, I'm not complaining about my job search. Rather, the recent misfortune of a champion colt whose name would suggest he should enjoy much better fortunes: Lookin at Lucky.

It's hard to say that a horse is riding a hard-luck streak when he's 6-for-8 lifetime, has earned more than $1.5 million, was an Eclipse winner at 2, and still is among the better bets for May 1's Kentucky Derby. That is, unless you've closely watched his last few races. And if you have or you do -- though Eskenderya was awe-inspiring Saturday in the Wood Memorial (and I'll write about him soon, as well) -- you'll be reminded why Lookin at Lucky is one of the precious few to beat in the Run for the Roses.

After all, the colt woulda, coulda, shoulda been perfect as a juvenile, but drew the 13-hole for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and was stuck wide throughout behind a slow pace at Santa Anita. Finishing with a rush beneath Garrett Gomez, Lookin at Lucky came up inches short, a nose behind long-shot European invader Vale of York, who benefited from a dream trip on the rail thanks to rider Ahmed Ajtebi.

Since returning to the track in 2010, Lookin at Lucky has raced twice, and despite a Grade 2 win and a Grade 1 placing, he's still mired in a streak of bad trips.

Coming into the race after an 84-day layoff, in the Rebel S.-G2 on March 13, Lookin at Lucky jumped heels and broke stride on the back stretch while fellow top contenders Dublin (7/5 on the final odds) and Noble's Promise proceeded unimpeded. The champion and Gomez gathered themselves for a second charge, had to take the overland route going wide on the far turn, and charged down the middle of the Oaklawn track to just nip Noble's Promise at the wire.

And on Saturday at Santa Anita, the trip was even worse. While eventual winner Sidney's Candy was beyond doubt impressive in wiring the field, he benefited from leisurely fractions of 24-flat and 48.50. Meanwhile, Lookin at Lucky and Gomez were cut off just as they were getting into gear on the far turn. Race-caller Trevor Denman said the horse was "in tight ... got stopped cold (and) has dropped out."

When was the last time you saw a horse who had "dropped out" of a mile and an eighth race with less than three furlongs to go, come back to finish third in what was practically a hand-ride?

Setsuko came on down the center of the track to nab a far-back second to Sidney's Candy. But Gomez later said of his colt, "there was no need for me to start banging on him in trying to run second or third when I know we've got another race ahead." Victor Espinoza, whose mount Who's Up cut off Lookin at Lucky in the SA Derby, got a three day ban for his ride and a couple of knuckle sandwiches at the scales from Gomez, who was fined $750 for the fisticuffs. (Sounds about fair.) And Lookin at Lucky's trainer, Bob Baffert, despite calling Gomez's ride "horrendous," will leave the jockey on the horse, as I believe he should.

So what are we left with?

One of the best horses in the country, I think, likely sharper than we realize, and with a two-turn dirt win (the Rebel) under his belt that most Cal-based runners lack these days. He still has one of the nation's best in the irons. And now he'll likely to be sent off as the third, fourth or even fifth choice at Churchill on Derby Day.

With his wonderful Wood, Eskendereya has stamped himself the almost certain post-time favorite, provided he stays healthy and his works are on-track. Sidney's Candy just trounced a pretty fair group in the Santa Anita Derby, and only one horse -- that being the unlucky "Lucky" -- has any excuse.

I still believe Odysseus has tremendous potential. He crushed eventual Rushaway Stakes winner Exhi by 15 lengths in an allowance race. Then he came back from seeming defeat -- announcer Richard Grunder said Odysseus would "have to wait for another day" near the top of the stretch -- to win the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby on a freakish resurgence and pure guts in a three-horse drive. And should he win the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes this Saturday (his likely target) or the Arkansas Derby-G1 (his connections' second choice), he would become a major betting interest at Churchill.

I doubt surprise Louisiana Derby-G2 winner Mission Impazible will count for too much in the Churchill wagering, nor will gate-to-wire Illinois Derby-G3 winner American Lion, who still isn't quite living up to expectations. But if Odysseus doesn't win one of this weekend's final Derby preps and horses like Interactif (who is Blue Grass-bound) and Dublin (at Oaklawn for the Arkansas Derby) do, they'll likely be among the top four to six favorites at Kentucky Derby post time.

It's inaccurate to speculate that Lookin at Lucky will be a "price" horse at Churchill Downs. But the past five years of wagering history suggest that even as the third or fourth-favored horse, he's likely to be sent off on Derby Saturday at somewhere between 6/1 and 10/1. Fifth-favored would be almost guaranteed double-digit odds.

Imagine the possibility of a $20 or $25 Derby payout on a reigning 2-year-old champion.

And all Lookin at Lucky might need to cash in is just enough good fortune to finally get a decent draw and a halfway-clean trip.


  1. Hi,
    I enjoyed your article.



  2. Thanks to you, Graham, for reading. :-)

  3. It's ironic how much "bad luck" Lookin At Lucky has run into since the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. If he gets a clean trip for once in his life in the Kentucky Derby it should be a done deal.
    I'm really looking forward to seeing Noble's Promise and Odysseus this weekend!

  4. After i watched the replay and saw the rough trip LAL had, I thought what a good valve LAL will be on Derby day

  5. Glen, enjoyed the article. Lookin at Lucky's trip was horrific in Santa Anita. As far as I'm concerned, for pure grit and determination, Lucky leaves 'em all in his dust!
    Sasscer Hill

  6. Actually i think he's getting overbet in the KD as he's everyone's wise guy now. Caracortado had a rougher trip BTW.

    Good luck finding the last time a horse finished 6 lengths behind the winner in his final prep and went on to win the KD. Regardless of excuse, it just doesn't happen.

  7. Why keep GoGo on when there are other top jocks available who could get the job done without all the fanfare and fireworks? It's inaccurate to assume that Garrett Gomez is the best rider for this horse (just because he led the nation in purse winnings last year doesn't mean they will hand him a KY Derby...) How many Derby's has he won? There ya go..

  8. Midge, I think it would be virtually impossible for a horse to have a worse trip than Lucky did in the SA Derby without falling down.

    As for horses who finished six lengths behind the winner in their final prep and then won the Kentucky Derby, I'm not quite sure how to account for Mine That Bird last year. No, he didn't lose the Sunland Derby by six lengths -- only fourth beaten about four. But that was a race won by a horse who has never won another stakes race (Kelly Leak), and an ungraded race, to boot. (Only graded this year primarily because of MTB's surprise Derby win.) ... So to lose to Kelly Leak by four in an ungraded race in which he had no excuse is beyond doubt a worse last prep for MTB than Lucky's disastrous SA Derby that still finished with him in third.

    And while it wasn't six lengths, Thunder Gulch was fourth beaten about 4 1/2 in the 1995 Blue Grass before going off at something like 24-1 and winning the Derby.

    Anon: Gomez wasn't just the leading rider in purse winnings last year. He's been the leading rider nationally in earnings for about four straight years now, if memory serves.

    And a number of very good jockeys -- even some great ones -- never won a Kentucky Derby. George Woolf won the Santa Anita Handicap, the Preakness, the Hollywood Gold Cup three times, the Pimlico Special three times, the Whitney, Carter and Dwyer, the JC Gold Cup, the CCA Oaks, the Santa Anita Derby, the Black Eyed Susan and dozens of other top stakes races, some of them repeatedly. He never won a Kentucky Derby.

    Laffit Pincay won 9,530 races, but only one Kentucky Derby. Pat Day won 8,803 times and also only one Derby. Day rode for 32 years; Gomez is only 38 years old. He has a while to go yet before he can be written off as a total Derby bust.

    John Velazquez has more than 4,700 wins without a Kentucky Derby. Robby Albarado recently crested 4,000 wins without a Kentucky Derby.

    If you're gonna knock a jock for failing (so far) in one race on the first Saturday of each May at Churchill, you have a lot of pretty successful fellas standing in line to be dismissed.

  9. Sorry but there is no way Lookin at Lucky gets sent off between 9/1 and 12/1 on May 1st.

    The crowd just loves to play back "trouble horses".

    Then when they lose they wonder why they didn't factor in the possible "trouble" in *this* race also. ;-)

  10. A lot still depends on the outcomes of this week's races. If Interactif or Odysseus (or both) look spectacular in the Blue Grass, they'll attract plenty of money from bettors.

    Even if Lucky goes off third-favored -- and it's hard to think he'll be second or first after the way that Eskendereya and Sidney's Candy ran in their respective wins Saturday -- recent history says Lucky would be at least 6-1. And the better others look this weekend, to put a good performance fresher in the memories of the wagering public, the more he has a chance to drift up a little.

  11. LAL is a very good horse but he was helped in the Rebel by Nakatani taking off too soon with Dublin. Still Noble was within inches of holding off LAL. Noble is your Arkansas and Derby winner.

  12. That's a bold prediction. Not for Noble's Promise to win the Arkansas Derby Saturday, because he's perfectly capable. But for him to win the Kentucky Derby.

    I think if any of the top contenders find that 10-furlong distance to be too far, it will be Noble's Promise. I have a hunch that 9 furlongs is his effective limit. And he's gonna have to be a LOT better (or Eskendereya and Sidney's Candy a lot worse) to beat either of last week's G1 winners, let alone Lucky.

    You'll probably get a decent price on him, though, unless he just crushes Saturday as the aforementioned two did last week.


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