BALTIMORE — As he reached the final sixteenth of a mile in the Preakness Stakes, all of Lookin At Lucky's bad fortune faded away.
For the first time in months, there was no troubled trip to overcome, no horrid post position to hinder his style, no other unfortunate circumstances for his connections to make excuses for.
The only thing Lookin At Lucky had to conquer Saturday was his 11 rivals. Considering the champion colt has spent much of his life at the top of his class, it was a challenge he was more than accustomed to handling.
Weeks of frustration surrounding Lookin At Lucky gave way to sweet redemption before a crowd of 95,760 at Pimlico Race Course as the bay colt overtook pacesetter First Dude in the stretch to win the $1 million Preakness Stakes by three-quarters of a length.
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With Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver fading to finish eighth in the 13⁄16-mile race, the hopes of possibly seeing the first Triple Crown winner since 1978 were lost with him.
But for the enthusiastic team behind Lookin At Lucky — the reigning juvenile champion and now four-time Grade I winner — Saturday's result was all about making up for lost opportunities.
Despite his auspicious name, Lookin At Lucky came into the Preakness with a lengthy streak of misfortune behind him.
There was his extremely wide trip from the No. 13 post during a runner-up effort in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last November, his third-place run in the Santa Anita Derby after getting pinched in tight quarters, and — most recently — getting slammed into the rail at the start of the Kentucky Derby and running sixth as the betting favorite after drawing the undesirable post-position No. 1.
All of that helped prompt trainer Bob Baffert to take regular rider Garrett Gomez off Lookin At Lucky and replace him with 25-year-old upstart Martin Garcia.
As the Hall of Fame trainer hoisted the Woodlawn Vase for the fifth time — tying him with D. Wayne Lukas and T.J. Healey for second-most all time — there was no doubt his gamble had been well worth it.
"This was a different kind of win, this was more of a redemption win," said Baffert, who had previously won the Preakness with War Emblem (2002), Point Given (2001), Real Quiet (1998), and Silver Charm (1997). "I wanted to win it for the horse because he tries so hard every time. He's had those rough trips, Santa Anita, the Derby, but ... every time he came back.
"He's just a really great athlete. He's one of the best I've ever had."
Garcia, who has been riding for about five years, got his first mount in a Triple Crown race just two weeks ago when he rode the Baffert-trained Conveyance to a 15th-place finish in the Derby.
He showed no nervousness Saturday as he guided Lookin At Lucky out of post position No. 7, saved ground in the two-path by the stands, and settled on the outside while First Dude set fractions of :22.91 and :46.47 with Super Saver 11/2 lengths back in second.
"When I started riding, I didn't even know what the Preakness is, any race," Garcia said. "Mr. Baffert told me to break good, and try and stay dry in the first turn and that's what I did. I had a really great horse."
While First Dude was still hanging strong approaching the final turn, Super Saver began backing up under jockey Calvin Borel while Lookin At Lucky angled out four-wide and advanced toward the front alongside Caracortado.
Caracortado couldn't sustain his bid but Lookin At Lucky dug in gamely to overtake First Dude, who held for second by a head over Jackson Bend as Lookin At Lucky hit the wire in 1:55.47 for his seventh win in 10 career starts.
"It was time for some luck," said Paul Weitman, who co-owns Lookin At Lucky along with Karl Watson and Mike Pegram. "We had it today. The horse was ready, Bob had the horse ready and Martin did a wonderful job.
"I thought this horse was capable of it all along but somewhere along the line in sports, you can't keep using excuses. You have to win."
Trainer Todd Pletcher didn't blame the quick pace on Super Saver's poor showing.
"It looked like the colt was relaxed but ... he came up empty," Pletcher said of the 9-5 favorite. "When they went to the far turn, you could see Calvin was squeezing and asking but he just couldn't do it. Now we've got time to come back for a big summer."
Baffert said earlier in the week he did not plan to send Lookin At Lucky to the Belmont Stakes. He was less certain after Saturday's win.
"We'll talk about it later on," Baffert said. "The Kentucky Derby is like the Super Bowl and these are like the NFC Championships, but they're still just as exciting."