LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY // Bob Baffert has suddenly gone from having a solid contender to having the solid favourite for the Kentucky Derby. The Baffert-trained Lookin At Lucky, last year's two-year-old champion, 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 (Eskendereya's handler) has never brought a horse to the Derby like that," Baffert said on a cloudy and 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 favourite, but broke a leg the week before the race. Baffert's horse, Indian Charlie, went off as the favourite. His other entry, Real Quiet, won, giving the trainer his second consecutive Derby victory. Mike Pegram owned Real Quiet, who went on to win the Preakness, putting Pegram and long-time 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." 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.
"It would be good for John," Baffert said, laughing. The expected full field of 20 Derby horses shifted again on Monday, with Pletcher eliminating Rule and adding the filly Devil May Care. Despite the loss of Eskendereya, the trainer could have 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 18¼ 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." 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 on Monday, going five furlongs over an off-track in 1min .80sec, the fastest of 26 workouts at the distance. * AP