Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Bob Baffert has suddenly gone from having a solid contender to having the solid favorite for the Kentucky Derby.
Last year’s 2-year-old champion, Lookin At Lucky, assumed the role after Eskendereya was forced out of the field by a leg injury.
“There’s no telling how good that horse was. Todd Pletcher has never brought a horse to the Derby like that,” Baffert said on a cloudy, cold Monday at Churchill Downs. “The Derby dream just gets totally lost like that. It’s horrible.”
Baffert knows the feeling, though.
In 1998, Event of the Year was to be the Derby favorite, but broke a leg the week before the race. Baffert’s horse, Indian Charlie, went off as the favorite. His other entry, Real Quiet, won, giving the trainer his second straight Derby victory.
Mike Pegram owned Real Quiet, who went on to win the Preakness, putting him and longtime friend Baffert on the brink of the Triple Crown. But the colt was beaten by a nose in the Belmont.
Now, Baffert and Pegram, who co-owns Lookin At Lucky, have a shot at making the head-spinning trip to the winner’s circle together again.
“You appreciate it more as you get older. You understand what the Derby really means,” Pegram said. “You know how fortunate and lucky you are to make the race and to have a chance to win it.”
Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia calls Lookin At Lucky the “solid favorite” for Saturday’s 11/4-mile race.
“I’m thinking he’ll be right around 3-1 — not as solid as Eskendereya would have been, but still pretty solid,” said Battaglia, who will set the morning line at Wednesday’s draw. “Then I’ll probably have Sidney’s Candy at right around 6-1 or 8-1, and then Awesome Act at right around the same odds.”
Baffert believes Lookin At Lucky and Sidney’s Candy should reverse their positions since the John Sadler-trained colt beat him by six lengths in the Santa Anita Derby.
“He should have the favorite, it would be good for John,” Baffert said, laughing.
The expected full field of 20 Derby horses shifted again Monday, with Pletcher eliminating Rule and adding filly Devil May Care. Despite the loss of Eskendereya, the trainer could have up to five starters as he tries to end an 0 for 24 skid in the Derby.
Still, he said losing Eskendereya, winner of his last two starts by a combined 181/4 lengths, was hard.
“No matter what happens on Saturday, there’s always going to be that what-if,” Pletcher said. “There’s no way around it.”
Rule’s defection moved Jackson Bend moved onto the list of potential starters for trainer Nick Zito. The colt finished second to Eskendereya in the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby, won by Ice Box, another starter for Zito.
Lookin At Lucky has improved daily since arriving at Churchill Downs last week. The colt with six wins in eight career starts completed his final major workout Monday, going five furlongs over an off-track in 1:00.80, the fastest of 26 workouts at the distance.
“If Garrett [Gomez] can just get him in the right spot, and give him a chance to win, that’s all he needs,” Baffert said. “If he turns for home and he’s right there, he’ll give it his all. He’s a fierce competitor.”