Lookin At Lucky finally won one of the big ones. Although his victory in the Preakness means the racing world will have to wait at least one more year for a Triple Crown winner, few people seemed to be truly upset by the result.
Lucky is an honest racehorse and that makes it hard not to like him. He is owned and trained by likable connections, which is always a plus. And for those who follow the sport, he appeared to be a horse that deserved to win a race that gets you remembered.
Earlier in the week, trainer Bob Baffert said the Preakness was a race for redemption, and his charge proved him right. In the process, Lucky gave Baffert his fifth Preakness victory.
"This was a different kind of win," Baffert said after the race. "This was more of a redemption win. This horse is such a warrior. He wants to win. I wanted to win it for the horse, you know, because he tries so hard every time. He's got a great mind. He's a cool horse. He's just a really great athlete. I mean, he's one of the best horses I've ever had."
Lucky was sent off at odds of 2-1, making him the second choice behind Derby winner Super Saver. In the past decade, the Preakness has been the most formful of the Triple Crown races. The most a winner has paid came in 2006 when eventual 3-year-old champion Bernardini won at 12-1. Including Lucky, seven of the winners went off at 2-1 or less.
Comparatively, the Derby has had two 50-1 shots win, Giacomo and Mine That Bird, while the Belmont has been won by such long shots as Sarava (70-1), Birdstone (36-1) and Da' Tara (38-1).
To put it another way, from 2000 to 2009, only two Preakness winners have not gone on to be named champion 3-year-old male. They are Red Bullet in 2000 and Rachel Alexandra in 2009. Considering Rachel Alexandra was named Horse of the Year and couldn't win champion 3-year-old male because she is a filly, the stat really means that the best 3-year-old of each crop has won the Preakness in the last nine years.
This doesn't mean long shots haven't run well in the second leg of the Triple Crown. This year, a very game First Dude was second by three-quarters of a length. After setting swift fractions, he hung on for second over Jackson Bend. First Dude was sent off at odds of 23-1, joining Magic Weisner (45-1), Midway Road (20-1), and Macho Again (39-1) as horses who outran their odds on their way to being the Preakness runner-up.
Baffert has said that Lucky will not contest the Belmont, but I am hopeful he changes his mind -- something he is indeed famous for doing. The horse has only had four starts this year and his pedigree implies the 1½-mile distance should not be a problem.
A lot of comparisons have been drawn between Lucky and one of Baffert's other Preakness winners, Point Given. In 2000, Point Given lost the Breeders' Cup Juvenile by a nose to Macho Uno. Last year, Lucky finished second in the same race by a half-length to Vale of York.
In 2001, Point Given was sent off as the Derby favorite only to finish fifth to Monarchos, a son of Maria's Mon. Lucky was this year's Derby favorite, and he finished sixth behind another Maria's Mon colt, Super Saver. Both of them found redemption in the Preakness, while the Derby winner finished off the board. Monarchos was sixth, and Super Saver finished eighth.
One of the most visually impressive races I have ever seen came in the 2001 Belmont when Point Given skipped home 12¼ lengths in front of his nearest foe, A P Valentine, who had finished second in the Preakness and seventh in the Derby. Monarchos was third. Point Given would go on to win the Haskell and Travers en route to being named Horse of the Year.
Given Point Given's exploits, the Triple Crown still held some interest by the time the Belmont rolled around. If neither Super Saver nor Lookin At Lucky ends up running in the final leg of the series, the race is going to lose almost all its luster. This has only happened twice in the last 10 runnings of the race.
In 2000, Commendable won a race that did not feature Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus or Preakness victor Red Bullet. With all due respect to Commendable and his connections, it was one of the least memorable Belmonts in a long time.
In 2006, neither the Derby or Preakness winner contested the Belmont, but under entirely different circumstances, as Barbaro, the ill-fated Derby winner, was fighting for his life. Additionally, Jazil won the race, and although it, in and of itself, was not that memorable, the fact that his half-sister Rags to Riches won the following year has cemented his name in racing fans' brains.
At the end of the day, trainers must do right by their horses. But if Super Saver and Lookin at Lucky are fit, it would be a shame for them to sit out the last dance. After all, winning two legs of the Triple Crown is nothing to sneeze at. Not to mention that if neither of them shows up, the Belmont goes from being something special to just another nice race in June.
Amanda Duckworth is a freelance journalist who lives in Lexington, Ky. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.