LOUISVILLE — For the sake of Lookin At Lucky's owners, Bob Baffert tried to keep up a brave face last week, hoping the foundation he put into his colt could somehow overcome what he believed to be inevitable.
Shortly before Kentucky Derby winning trainer Todd Pletcher emerged on Sunday to recount his first-ever victory in the race, however, Baffert conceded he would have been shocked if he had been the one holding court on the Churchill Downs backstretch.
"He was doomed after Wednesday," the three-time Derby winning trainer said of Lookin At Lucky. "I didn't want to let them, the owners, know but I knew we were screwed."
While Pletcher had the pleasant task of dissecting the events that allowed Super Saver to win the Kentucky Derby, Baffert and the rest of his peers were left to explain what happened and what's next with the Preakness Stakes less than two weeks away.
Never miss a local story.
With three Grade I wins and an Eclipse Award, Lookin At Lucky had the best résumé of any horse in this year's Derby field.
What he couldn't shake was his streak of misfortune. And after drawing post position No. 1 on Wednesday — a spot generally considered along with the No. 20 hole to be the least desirable — Baffert figured it would take a minor miracle for the colt to have anything but a disastrous trip.
True enough, after jockey Calvin Borel angled Super Saver in front of Lookin At Lucky coming out of the No. 4, the 6-1 favorite was slammed into the rail by long shot Stately Victor, causing him to check up much as he did after getting bumped during his third-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby.
"The thing that is so tough about the No. 1 hole is when you break you have to go right into the rail," Baffert said. "I knew that Super Saver would be coming over immediately and he kind of put the squeeze on us. He made it tight but then the wall came down.
"If this was just another race, I would have just scratched the horse and waited for the Preakness. I knew I couldn't get a clean trip out of there unless (jockey) Garrett (Gomez) used him hard out of there."
Though Baffert did not openly criticized Gomez for his ride the way he did after the Santa Anita Derby, he stopped short of saying the Eclipse Award-winning jockey would definitely be back on the colt in his next start.
"Garrett was in a bad spot when he left there," Baffert said. "Calvin put the squeeze on Ice Box and kind of took Lucky out ... but that's the way the good riders ride in the big race. You want those guys to be aggressive and that's what Calvin is, he's aggressive."
Aside from some superficial nicks, Baffert said Lookin At Lucky came out of the race in good shape. Still, the Hall of Fame trainer was non-committal on a trip to the Preakness.
"When Point Given came out of the (2001) Derby, I remember (racing manager) Richard Mulhall had to leave for Hong Kong and he said, 'My phone doesn't work so just leave me messages,'" Baffert said. "The first day I said, 'No, we're not going to go,' and ... by Sunday I said, 'We're going to the Preakness we cannot lose.' I've got to feel that."
Nick Zito also held off on making any firm decisions Sunday after Ice Box mounted a rally in the stretch to finish 21/2 lengths behind Super Saver in second.
Ice Box also endured a horrible trip, checking three times during the 11/4-mile race.
"He could have been 18th very easily. So easily it's scary," said Zito, who also saddled Jackson Bend to a 12th-place finish. "I'd like to know a horse who was checked three times and finishes second. They both came back good, but I'm not making any decisions today."
Of course, the one horse almost certain to be at Pimlico on May 15 is the Derby winner himself.
Super Saver showed he was nimble enough to keep himself out of trouble in a big field, and that agility should serve him well around the tighter turns at Pimlico.
Though his previous two wins had come in wire-to-wire fashion, Super Saver showed Saturday he was as effective rating as he is prompting the pace.
"I think with his style of running, he's not vulnerable," Pletcher said of the son of Maria's Mon. "He doesn't need a pace set up. If the pace is hot like it was yesterday he can sit, so he's the kind of horse who can make his own trip."
Though Pletcher said his other three Derby starters — Devil May Care, Mission Impazible and Discreetly Mine — were doubtful for the Preakness, he could start Derby Trial runner-up Aikenite in the race.
Pletcher's mentor, trainer D. Wayne Lukas, said he would likely send Dublin to Baltimore after his seventh-place finish in the Derby. Fourth-place finisher Make Music for Me is also under consideration.