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Thursday, May 13, 2010
Time for 'Lookin' to get lucky

By Bill Finley
Special to ESPN.com

It's a bit hard to separate the top two horses in the Preakness -- Super Saver and Lookin at Lucky -- because no one can be quite sure how good Lookin at Lucky is. The colt with the ironic name had no chance in his last two races, the Santa Anita and Kentucky Derbies, because of the misadventures he suffered from gate to wire. Even when he won the Rebel, he did so by a head in another performance compromised by a troubled trip.

Is Lookin at Lucky the better of the two? You have to take a leap of faith to believe that he is, but I'm willing to do just that. He's my pick in the Preakness.

You can't judge these two just by what happened in the Kentucky Derby; you have to do so by their overall body of work. Lookin at Lucky is a 2-year-old champion, was an unlucky loser in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and is a three-time Grade 1 winner. He happened to have a terrible trip in the Kentucky Derby. Super Saver came into the Derby with one stakes win on his record, in a Grade 2 race as a 2-year-old, and off defeats in the Tampa and Arkansas Derbies. He happened to have a perfect trip in the Kentucky Derby, where it couldn't have hurt that the track was sloppy. Two of his three career wins have come on sloppy tracks.

With Lookin at Lucky, nothing can be taken for granted, but the Preakness has a reasonably sized field of 12, he drew well with the seven post, the track will be fast and he has a new jockey in Martin Garcia, so it's hard to imagine he will have still another nightmarish trip. (I'm not much for jockey changes, but Garrett Gomez did have to go.) If he finally gets lucky, is he the better horse of the two? There's a lot of evidence that says he is.

The biggest fear is that Lookin at Lucky won't be close enough to what figures to be a very slow pace. The Preakness is the polar opposite of the Derby. There is so little early speed in the race that it's quite possible that Super Saver lopes along on the lead through slow fractions and no one catches him. Garcia has to stay close. Horses like Pleasant Prince and Dublin, who figure to be well back early, are going to have a hard time catching up.

There is nothing wrong with Super Saver or any reason to believe he won't run another big race, maybe even a winning race. Even with the perfect trip, he won the Derby fairly handily and didn't run the type of super fast, tough race that would suggest a bounce is in order. He figures to get a good trip again, has plenty of class and ability, and is in the capable hands of Todd Pletcher and Calvin Borel. In an evenly matched group of 3-year-olds without much star power, he's certainly as good as anyone.

Saying that the Preakness is a two-horse race between the two favorites isn't that daring and maybe not even that insightful. But going against the logical horse in the middle leg of the Triple Crown has been a ruinous strategy of late. This is the chalkiest big race there is. Seven of the last nine runnings have been won by the favorite, as have 10 of the last 20. Four of the last 10 exactas have paid $40 or less. Year in and year out, zeroing in on the logical horses is the way to go in the Preakness.

I'll fill out my top three with Jackson Bend. Throw out his performance in the Derby, which I am willing to do because I don't think he liked the sloppy track, and he's a solid and consistent horse. Plus, trainer Nick Zito's horses often run a big race after a poor one. That's exactly what happened with Louis Quatorze, who won the 1996 Preakness after finishing 16th in the Derby.

Here's how I will play the race: $45 exacta, Lookin at Lucky over Super Saver. $35 exacta, Super Saver over Lookin at Lucky. $20 exacta, Lookin at Lucky over Jackson Bend.

Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact him at wnfinley@aol.com.