We're still three and a half months away from the Kentucky Derby, and as everyone knows, a lot can happen between now and then. But acknowledging that, you would be hard-pressed to find many that would say Lookin at Lucky is not the solid favorite at this point.
Lookin at Lucky has won five of six with his only loss coming by a head in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile after having to break from post 13. He is well bred, has the nations top rider, and his trainer knows as well as anyone how to win the Derby. And last week, the colt seemed to take another step forward with the addition of blinkers.
Again, it is still January, but it would be foolish not to find out all we could about the leading Derby contender. Baffert, always gracious and forthcoming in an interview, took the time to answer my questions about his 3-year-old star.
JS: Everyone seems to be talking about Looking at Lucky, so I thought I'd ask you a few questions.
BB: How come nobody is asking me about the Eclipse Awards? You know, I am nominated for the trainer award.
JS: I think you're a longshot in that one though. Are you even going to go?
BB: Yeah. I like it when I know I'm not going to win. I can relax and have a good time.
JS: I hope you pull off a shocker. As far as Lookin at Lucky, the big buzz now is that you worked him in blinkers the other day (Jan. 9) and he apparently responded to it well. What's the deal?
BB: We thought about blinkers for a while with him but he won all those races in a row and it was hard to make that change. We would've been taking a chance, especially with the 2-year-old championship being on the line at Hollywood (in the CashCall Futurity). In that race, the pace was so slow that he found himself of the lead, kind of like the Norfolk, and he shut it down when he got it. Garrett tried to encourage him and he just wouldn't go.
After that I decided to try (blinkers). Garrett usually never works the horse but I asked him to this time. He came back really excited. Usually he'll throw his ears up when he goes by the other horse, but when Garrett squeezed on him this time he stayed focused and found an extra gear.
JS: You said he was the best 2-year-old you had in quite some time. Now that he's 3, how would you rate him, and who can you compare him to?
BB: He's still so young so it's hard to compare him. He still has a growth spurt left in him. But I like horses like him that have tactical speed. He isn't one-dimensional. He can sit and pounce and has enough speed to stay out of trouble. Silver Charm and Real Quiet were like that. They could relax but if you asked them, they would go. Those kinds of horses have an advantage in the Derby.
JS: I guess with his pedigree (Smart Strike-Private Feeling, by Belong to Me) you don't have many concerns about whether he can get the distance?
BB: I can tell the first time a horse goes two turns whether they can handle it. This horse can. Even though he's a late foal, I think he'll be ready.
JS: When was he foaled?
BB: May 27th, which is pretty late. But I knew early on he was going to come around sooner than most. Mike Pegram was surprised when I called him last year and told him that he'd be ready before Del Mar. He came around very quickly.
JS: From the conversations I've seen and quotes I've read, you have thrown out two Derby preps for him. You mentioned the San Felipe and possibly shipping him out of California to try dirt. Can you tell me what your line of thinking is as of now?
BB: Well, I had Pioneerof the Nile last year and he stayed in California and raced well in the Derby. I think this horse will like dirt better but I don't know. It's still early. I don't like to write anything in stone in January.
JS: Fair enough. But if I pressed you now, which way would you say you're leaning?
BB: If I had to say now, I'd say I was leaning toward the San Felipe and then if I shipped him, my first choice would be Fair Grounds (for the Louisiana Derby). But that track can by gimmicky sometimes. It's hard to know if he'll like it.
JS: I guess you like the new timing of the Louisiana Derby?
BB: Not necessarily. I used to like the Wood when it was three weeks out. Every horse is different. Four or five weeks is fine.
JS: Just to finish up the synthetics versus dirt thing, would you say you are now more confident that a horse doesn't have to prep on dirt since Pioneerof the Nile ran so well last year?
BB: It depends on what synthetic we're talking about. Polytrack is totally different; you don't know what you're getting with it. Our synthetics (Santa Anita's Pro-Ride) plays more toward speed. They had it totally different on Breeders' Cup day. It was more geared for turf horses. Now it's back to speed. Hollywood is closest to dirt.
But I do like California because of the weather and you don't have to worry about the sloppy, sealed tracks, which can be dangerous. You have to be careful.
JS: It's still January, but you have to be pretty happy with where you're sitting-not only with Lookin at Lucky but some of your other horses.
BB: (The Derby) is a long ways off. It's January. The last prep is the one that matters most-that mile and an eighth. That's when you really want to see what you have.
Take Control and Tiz Chrome are really talented horses too. It's great to be in this position but I have to remind myself and others that anything can happen. Look at what happened to Clutch Player. You just never know. It's nice to dream, but as a trainer, I dream in black and white. The owners--they are allowed to dream in Technicolor.
JS: Thanks Bob. Best of luck at the Eclipse Awards.
BB: If I win, I'm buying everyone drinks.