Lookin at Lucky's trip

He's a better horse than he showed today

May 1, 2010, 9:13 PM

By: Garrett Gomez

Yesterday I got the perfect trip in the American Turf. Today I got the opposite in the Kentucky Derby.

It wasn't exactly a bad trip, per se, but things just didn't really go our way and I'm not sure exactly which reason to pinpoint, but there are a bunch of them, that's why I finished sixth with Lookin at Lucky instead of winning. I'm a little disappointed because I thought I had the best horse and when you're riding the early favorite you feel like you should win, but he just didn't help out a lot today.

First time on the sloppy racetrack is asking a lot of them too. I got bounced the first couple of jumps from the No. 3 horse and he got up on his feet and traveled well for about six or seven jumps and all of a sudden he just stuck his feet in the ground and hesitated. When he stuck them in the ground, I sat down on him because I didn't know what was going on. By then, I started to figure out what he was doing. By then I knew I was in trouble, because you can't do that in this race, going into the first turn. You can't give up that ground.

I felt like if I could have stayed where I was, in behind Willie Martinez on Noble's Promise, I would have been in OK shape. But we got shuffled back and even though he started picking up horses, he wasn't doing it real willingly. I didn't expect that; I figured that if I got shuffled back he would start to pick them back up. Then all of a sudden we picked off most of the field up and started splitting [horses]. He started putting in an OK run and I thought, if I can eyeball something, he'll come home. But when we turned for home, at about the eighth pole, he flattened out.

There are a bunch of variables: the 1 post, the mud, he's never had this much stuff [flying] in his face, and the distance of 1¼ miles. There are other reasons; there were too many things going on today. I got bumped two or three times and that's when I got worried, riding past the stands for the first time, going into the first turn. He wasn't real willing to help me the first sixteenth of a mile and take some of it. After the first turn he wasn't willing to take much.

Of course, congratulations go out to the winning connections, but it's still a disappointment because I had a lot of faith in the horse and things just didn't go our way this afternoon. We live to fight again, and hopefully he comes out of the race OK. He's a better horse than he showed today, and I think everyone knows that.

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The inside post

I think I'm better off with post one, kind of.

April 28, 2010, 4:13 PM

By: Garrett Gomez

I spent the morning at the batting cage with my son, Jared, because I only had to ride the sixth race today. I'd just gotten back to the house here in Louisville and when I walked in, TVG was already talking about post one and how "Lucky drew post one!" and this and that. And then my agent sent me a text a couple minutes after that. They were talking about how the two favorites drew inside and outside, so they said "They both drew bad," but I don't know, it's tough down in the one hole, but I don't think it's necessarily a BAD draw.

The reason the one hole is viewed as a bad thing in the Kentucky Derby is because you have 20 horses trying to get over really fast, and that's where the problems come in with having a horse down on the inside. Everybody kind of feeds down in there, but you just have to work a trip out. To be honest with you, I'd rather have the one hole than the 20 -- that would be like when I had the 13 hole in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Unless you have a lot of speed when you're breaking from that position, you're not going to get over; you're always going to find something mid-pack that's going to hold you out because horses won't be able to get over to the inside. So I think I'm better off with post one, kind of.

Of course I would have rather drawn like we drew last year. Last year we ended up with post 15 which was OK; it was a little further out than we wanted but we had to take it because of Pioneerof the Nile's running style. They still did the selection process back then, and [trainer] Bob [Baffert] tried to place him around some of the horses we thought he'd run well with and keep him away from some others we wanted to avoid. This year it was a blind draw like we draw all of our races, so we didn't have a hand in it at all.

We'll just have to see how the race develops and go from there. When I get a chance to look at the field and see exactly what's around me I'll be able to tell how it should play out a little bit more, where I'll be able to get him protected, where hopefully he won't get shuffled back so far, where maybe I need to squeeze a little more or a little less, that kind of thing.

If a horse is willing to cooperate with what I'm asking him or her to do, the one hole doesn't make me terribly concerned. The objective is not to get shuffled back, because once you start getting shuffled back it's just going to continue. If that happens, you have no forward momentum, and every time you take a step back somebody takes a step in your path. So the key will be just trying to find a spot, and hopefully there's some gap in between me and some speed horses toward the outside so I can outrun a couple of them immediately to my outside and find a spot for him under the wire going into the first turn; that way, once we get into the first turn, we'll have a good spot.

I'll have to work out some kind of trip. I might have to use him, I might not. It'll just be according to what's exactly around me. It's a matter of trying to weave your way, trying to make sure you have more pace than who is next to you … it's one of those things where you need to know how to outrun some of the horses to your outside to avoid some of the shuffling and predicaments.

Someone asked me the other day how Lookin at Lucky has matured, since I've been on him in all of his starts. He's always been mature, always done everything right, but I think it's been more of a learning process for all of us who are involved with him. The reason I asked for the blinkers is because I wasn't the most confident sitting on him when he started pulling up and stuff like that, but if you watched his races when he was actually pulling up, he had those other horses measured. I was just uncomfortable with the way he had them measured because when I asked him to do something, he wasn't responsive to me telling him to go faster when there wasn't a target out there. And actually when I worked him the first time after they put the blinkers on, it seemed like they immediately fixed his attention to where his focus level improved. You can see it in his works here, when he goes by his competition he's doing it with ease, doing what he's supposed to be doing. So hopefully when I tell him go, he'll go ahead and do what he's supposed to. That's probably that maturing process, where he's developed.

He's always had a lot of talent and he's always been able to do it on talent, but it's like being in school, trying to get him used to the idea of getting focused on exactly what he's supposed to be doing and his goal for the day when he's out there. That's what we're trying to get him to achieve, and hopefully now that he's had the blinkers on, when I tell him to go he'll go ahead and go.

There's one thing the riders always do on Derby week, and I wanted to mention it because I think it's important no matter who you are: jockey, trainer, owner, fan. At this time of year, the room will be filled with items to be signed for charity, hats, jackets and other stuff like that. It takes two seconds; it's not a big deal for us to sign some stuff. We enjoy the charities just being here and wanting to be a part of things and if all it takes to show support is for us to sign a couple of things, we're more than happy to do so. It's part of giving back and it's something everyone should do, not only at this time of the year, but all the time. So I hope no matter what you're doing during Derby week, you'll pick an industry charity of some kind to support. That's an important part of my life, and an important part of our game.

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Closer than second

Lookin at Lucky is one week away from his start in the Kentucky Derby.

April 25, 2010, 1:54 AM

By: Garrett Gomez

I won my first race at Churchill Downs on the first day of the meet Saturday, so hopefully that's a sign of good things to come. It was also nice to have Aikenite run second in the Derby Trial. I took hold of him coming away from the gate and in all actuality I thought maybe I'd taken too much hold. But then he settled in and started picking them up and at the end he got to running. It was his first time on the off-track, and he ran well.

Saturday night I will fly to Chicago and then to California where I will ride Compari, a horse I've won five straight races with, in the Inglewood Handicap at Hollywood Park on Sunday. So I'll do that and it'll be good to see my family for a few days before I come back to Kentucky.

Riding in Kentucky has been great so far and our decision to head east has definitely paid off thus far. The riding title at Keeneland was a nice feather in my cap because that's something I've never done before, and Keeneland is one of the top meets in the country. I always enjoy riding there and the thing that's good about the track surface is even though it's artificial, they have the original Polytrack for the most part. Last year they had a little bit of kickback going on and I thought to myself, 'Oh boy, here we go,' because the racetrack at Santa Anita was so bad at one point I started wearing a visor, and that's not something you want to have to deal with if you can avoid it. But the track officials there took some notes and paid attention and figured out what they had to do to fix it, and everything was great this season.

One of the main reasons we decided to go to Keeneland, then to Churchill, and eventually further east to Monmouth and New York, is because there was a shortage of quality horses in California. Thankfully, I was lucky enough to get on several really nice horses at Keeneland, and hopefully that continues on through Churchill and on to Monmouth and Saratoga. I always have to thank the horsemen for their support and they showed up this spring with some excellent runners, which always makes my job more fun.

Speaking of an excellent runner, Lookin at Lucky is one week away from his start in the Kentucky Derby. He turned in a great work last Wednesday and I think Bob Baffert is really pleased with him. The decision to take the blinkers off after we added them for the past couple of races really doesn't worry me. I felt like he was getting a little anxious going to the gate, kind of wound up and excited. That's not like him at all -- he's such a laid-back, easy-going horse. I think the blinkers were a great tool to get him to where he needed to be mentally at this stage of the game, and he'll have matured enough to progress without them.

Last year I was as close as I've ever come to winning the Kentucky Derby when Pioneerof the Nile ran second to Mine That Bird. As the old cliché goes, winning the Derby is every jockey's dream. It's hard to believe an entire year has passed since then, but hopefully this year we get a little bit closer. Closer than second -- yeah, that'd be good enough for me!

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Two jockeys, one mount

The fact that Court believed in the horse and brought him to victory for the connections was deserving of the ride back.

April 23, 2010, 3:25 AM

By: Claire Novak

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — This is the story of one horse and two very capable riders, and the sad and sorry thing that happens when a trainer must choose which of the latter will pilot the former.

On the backside of Churchill Downs on Thursday morning, low rumblings of dismay could still be heard over news that broke two days prior, although it was pretty much what everyone expected. Rafael Bejarano would regain the mount on Line of David for his start in the Kentucky Derby. Jon Court, who had ridden the colt to victory in the Arkansas Derby on April 10, would not.

This is the nature of the game, and one could consider the fact that Bejarano had ridden Line of David in the first two wins of his career while also breezing the horse extensively in California reason enough for the change. Court himself, who has never had a Derby mount, said as much when he spoke to reporters about the loss of his shot at the Run for the Roses 136.

Two weeks ago, however, Line of David's connections were singing a decidedly different tune. Then, when Bejarano chose to ride Interactif for trainer Todd Pletcher in the Blue Grass Stakes, longtime California rider Court picked up the Sadler-trained mount and shipped in to Oaklawn Park from his new base in Kentucky. When the front-running colt shot straight to the lead and turned it on full throttle in the Arkansas Derby, Court managed to get him to rate, clipping along through the 1 1/8 miles with enough gas left in the tank to wire the field at the end. It was a brilliantly executed ride on a speed-favoring track with a horse whose singular running style is to go to the front and stay there. Court pulled it off perfectly.

Meanwhile, at Keeneland, Interactif ran up the track. And so Bejarano's chances to ride a Derby contender for power-player Pletcher were drastically reduced, although Pletcher said this morning that Interactif would work on Saturday and was still to be considered a potential Derby contender. Like any good rider, Bejarano decided to test the waters on a possible return to the mount he'd forgone in Arkansas. Like any good agent, Joe Ferrer got the job done.

Trainer John Sadler told Thoroughbred Times reporter Jeff Lowe that the decision was to go for a rider from "the home team," that Bejarano rides 70 percent of his stock in California. But the bottom line is that Bejarano, who leads the nation in purse earnings this year, is also a hot jock, hotter than the quiet veteran Court. And generally a trainer's guarantee of a mount of this status equals more first-call agreements from a rider of such desirable status. I get it.

Also, the temptation to go with a "name" rider is never stronger than during Derby season, and in many ways this is understandable. You enter the biggest race on the industry's greatest day, you want to get the best rider around. Bejarano has taken the California circuit by storm. He's a consistent competitor, youthful and strong.

But history is rife with stories of riders whose careers were marked by years of quiet consistency, not celebrity, before their Kentucky Derby wins. Calvin Borel, a two-time Derby winner in the past three years, is the perfect — and most recent — example. Sitting in the jocks' room on the Friday before Court's Arkansas Derby win, he talked about how he'd obtained the mount on the Todd Pletcher-trained Super Saver. After taking Derby 133 on Street Sense and Derby 135 on Mine That Bird — not to mention his connection with 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra — opportunities abound.

"It's so much easier for me to get on horses now," Borel said.

Prior to his Derby wins, Borel didn't lack the talent, strength, professionalism, or savvy to get the job done. In marquee races like the Derby, he simply lacked the opportunities. Not any more.

Court is a guy who rides hard, and well, to make a living and support his family. He's also pure class. When the news came on Tuesday, he took the high road and thanked the connections for his Arkansas Derby win. But that doesn't mean the loss didn't pain him. Riding in the Derby — the Kentucky Derby — is every jockey's dream.

Maybe it's the hopeless romantic in me, maybe it's the journalist who constantly seeks a good story line. I would have just liked to see the jock who piloted a 17-1 shot into the winner's circle in a $1 million race get a chance to be his partner in the big dance. Sure, other story lines abound. We'll get to those next time. But the fact that Court believed in the horse and brought him to victory for the connections was deserving of the ride back.

And that's just my opinion.

For more comprehensive information on horse racing, visit Helloracefans.com and Horseracingnation.com and be sure to follow Novak on Facebook and Twitter, @ClaireNovak.

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Wrong moves

As far as Lookin at Lucky is concerned, he was lucky again.

April 15, 2010, 11:23 PM

By: Garrett Gomez

We figured out Saturday that Aikenite isn't a Kentucky Derby horse, as Mr. Campbell told The Daily Racing Form on Monday. The Blue Grass Stakes kind of left me scratching my head because I was three-wide most of the trip, traveling well, and then by the time we got to the four-sixteenths pole he was pretty much done and kind of wilted on me.

I actually think you can throw a lot of the Blue Grass out for the simple fact that many of the horses who ran in it were switching to Polytrack from dirt. But as anyone who has been following the season will tell you, a lot of your main Derby horses have already had their preps and are standing out -- horses like the Wood Memorial winner Eskendereya and my horse, Lookin at Lucky. I was a little disappointed with the Arkansas Derby because I thought Noble's Promise would win and he's provided good competition for my horse in the past, but it looks like he had a little bit of an alibi with the cuts on his front legs. Hopefully he heals up quickly from those injuries so we can meet down the road.

I've been pretty busy since I got to Lexington. I flew in on the redeye last Tuesday evening and rode seven races the next day. I had to go work a couple of horses for Todd Pletcher in Louisville, so Saturday was actually the first day I even went out to eat -- before that I was just grabbing a little bit of fast food on the way home so I could catch the Masters on TV.

If you've read this blog for long, you probably know I'm an avid golfer and a pretty big fan. The Masters is cool to watch. I think it's the best tournament that we have on TV, and the broadcasters do an excellent job. Of course, this year's edition was interesting to more people than usual because of Tiger Woods. I think he's still the best golfer in the world and I get a thrill out of watching him play because he brings so much talent to the sport. But I think where his situation got out of control was when the public and his promoters took him away from just being an athlete and tried to make him this perfect persona thing. He's an athlete, people like to watch him play golf, and that has nothing to do with his personal life. Now that doesn't mean I condone what he was doing. But I still like to watch him play.

Speaking of things I don't necessarily condone, what happened after the Santa Anita Derby was one of them. By now you've probably read all the reports, comments, and questions that came when I punched Victor Espinosa following the race. I try to be pretty frank about what I'm thinking and feeling when I write in this space, so here's my take on the situation.

Basically, you can see what happened if you watch the replay. I got around the first turn and I was already down inside because trainer Bob Baffert didn't want the horse making a wide run, so I found myself room on the rail. I was like, "If I can commit to getting in behind the horse on the lead, I'll be fine."

The horses sitting outside of me were all ones I didn't think were live enough, and they were gonna stop at the three-eighths pole. Where I was headed, there was room for two horses in there until all of the sudden Victor decided to come in, looked under his arm, and dropped down on top of me.

People have offered the criticism that I should have been on the outside, but two more jumps and I am out of there before we turn for home. Listen, I'm the first one to tell you if I rode a bad race, just ask Bob Baffert. I'll call him and say, "That was my fault, I let the horse get too far back," or "I messed that one up." But this situation was just one of those things that was needless and could have been avoided. I know. I've been doing this for a long time.

As we've seen over and over again, one wrong move by any of us can be catastrophic out there. When we're riding, not only do we have our own lives in our hands, but we're also responsible for the lives of the guys beside us. One little stop, we're talking inches, can cause a tragic fall. In 1991 at Arlington Park, a horse came over next to my horse just as mine went to switch leads, and he bumped my horse who crossed legs and fell. And that was just a little accidental bump, not a blatant move.

I always look at it like this -- I don't do anything out there that I don't want done to me. We have our own rules on the racetrack; what goes on, how we're supposed to behave. Sure, you have the stewards' rules in the first place, but when you become a rider you learn certain things you're supposed to do and certain things you're not supposed to do ever, period.

So when somebody crosses that line, tempers flare. I don't like anyone messing with my life, and when I got back I was furious. You don't take an animal and use them to get even with somebody; you're asking for trouble -- and I was lucky that my horse was able to recuperate. It didn't look like much, but when he boxed me in, my horse stuck his feet into the ground on the second jump. And when he bounced me around in there, there was no call for it.

It was a situation that I personally should have handled in a more professional way; the way I reacted was in the heat of the moment and I feel that I'm a better professional than I displayed on that day. It's in the past now, though, and the fortunate thing is that nothing worse came of it.

As far as Lookin at Lucky is concerned, he was lucky again, despite the adversity. Fortunately, it's all systems go to the Derby and we'll see if Bob and I can do better than last year together -- which, of course, would equal a trip to the winner's circle.

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Expect the unexpected

Who could have known that another upset was looming on the horizon?

April 10, 2010, 9:40 PM

By: Claire Novak

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — Moments before the Arkansas Derby, word of the Blue Grass Stakes winner reached those standing in the owner/trainer area near the finish line at Oaklawn Park. "Stately Victor?" asked Bill Casner. Patrick Biancone looked surprised. A few Turf writers checked their smartphones to find the trainer's name. Mike Maker. Sent off at odds of 40-1.

Talk turned to the race at hand. Who could have known that another upset was looming on the horizon? When Line of David shot to the lead and blistered through an opening quarter in :22.65, no one in the viewing area thought he would last. But the John Sadler trainee bellied down the last quarter of a mile to roll home in a final time of 1:49.37, claiming a three-horse photo with Super Saver and Dublin. Complete order of finish in the Arkansas Derby: Line of David, Super Saver, Dublin, Uh Oh Bango, Noble's Promise, New Madrid, Berberis, Pulsion, Northern Giant.

"We wanted to be in front because at Santa Anita he was going in front and it just seemed to build confidence," Sadler said.

"I'll tell you what, when we put him on the front end and rolled into that first turn, he was rolling along pretty good but he came back to me," said jockey Jon Court. "I knew it went pretty quick, but then again when you have horses of this caliber at this time of the year with the targets — everybody has a dream that's in front of them in this prestigious race — you expect them to run those kind of fractions and carry them as well."

When Line of David ran seventh in a maiden special weight back in February, Sadler changed three things. He added blinkers, changed up the colt's running style, and moved him to the turf.

"The guy I had getting on him this week said he was perfect on the dirt," Sadler said. "You never know until they do it and we as trainers tend to be so conservative, so we always get surprised when they do succeed."

Sadler wasn't the only surprised one. But as written before in this blog, when the big shots don't show up, the understudies do. Seventh choice in a field of nine, the son of Lion Heart returned $36.60 on a $2 ticket. But that was nothing compared to Stately Victor's payoff; the son of Ghostzapper returned $82.20 — the richest in 86 editions of the Blue Grass. Ike Thrash, owner of the Arkansas Derby winner, could have spoken for Blue Grass-winning owners Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway and his father Thomas as well.

"This one was kind of late to the party," he said. "But even though we got around to it late, we knew he could run and he showed up today."

Next stop? Louisville, Kentucky. The first Saturday in May.

For more comprehensive information on horse racing, visit Helloracefans.com and Horseracingnation.com and be sure to follow Novak on Facebook and Twitter, @ClaireNovak.

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Now casting at Oaklawn

For every buzz horse on the racetrack, there are hundreds of extras.

April 9, 2010, 5:00 PM

By: Claire Novak

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — These are the buzz horses of the weekend: Zenyatta on Friday, and Noble's Promise on Saturday. As expected, the unbeaten Zenyatta scored her 16th straight win in the Apple Blossom. On the backside of Oaklawn Park this morning, if you talked to anybody, you talked about them.

Buzz horses make life easy. They're like Bob Baffert on Derby week. Everybody knows about them. Everyone knows what to expect. Odds are they're already good, so you watch with admiration, and before long you know little quirks and habits, things that make them tick. They're comfortable to be around. Their trainers put up with the attention.

But for every buzz horse on the racetrack, there are hundreds of extras. They still go through the same routines each morning — jogs and gallops, cool-outs and baths, massages and snacks from a hay net — but incognito, like supporting cast for a field of developing stars. And even in a marquee race like the $1 million Arkansas Derby, horses fly under the radar.

Extras of the Arkansas Derby include maiden winners New Madrid for Tim Ice and Berberis for Steve Asmussen, allowance winner Line of David for the California-based John Sadler, and the Kory Owens-trained Prairie Meadows Stakes winner Uh Oh Bango. You won't find much content in reference to them, but they've still been training, just like the big stars. Supporters are Northern Giant from the barn of D. Wayne Lukas, Pulsion from the string of Patrick Biancone. They already have credentials, but could use the win. The stars, three musketeers, are the Lukas-trained Dublin, Todd Pletcher's Super Saver, and Noble's Promise for Kenny McPeek.

Don't mistake the first quartet for filler horses, runners whose trainers have been coerced into entering simply to create enough of a field. These are runners who have shown enough talent, one way or another, to inspire the horsemen who care for them. Arkansas Derby en route to the first Saturday in May? It's been done before.

In the weeks leading up to the 2009 Kentucky Derby, trainers Chip Woolley and Tim Ice watched the buzz horses — and the media — passing their barns. Mine That Bird won that race, and although Summer Bird was a respectable sixth, he came back strong to win the Belmont. Funny, but earlier in the season, the latter ran third in the Arkansas Derby here at Oaklawn. He was an extra. A 30-1 shot on the morning line.

So keep an eye on the little guy at Oaklawn this weekend. If the stars don't show up for the curtain call, an understudy or two most likely will.

For more comprehensive information on horse racing, visit Helloracefans.com and Horseracingnation.com and be sure to follow Novak on Facebook and Twitter, @ClaireNovak.

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Zenyatta commands attention

"She is like Marilyn Monroe"

April 8, 2010, 11:30 PM

By: Claire Novak

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. -- There's this race. It's called the Arkansas Derby. Nine horses are entered to run in it on Saturday. Around here, you wouldn't necessarily know.

You wouldn't know because the people of Hot Springs have fallen head over heels with Zenyatta, as, in fact, have the trainers of several Arkansas Derby contenders. Take Patrick Biancone for instance. He'll saddle Pulsion in Saturday's 1 1/8-miles test. He needs the race. His horse was sixth in the Florida Derby last time out, and sixth in the Fountain of Youth before that.

Thursday morning, however, Biancone could be found railside with trainer Tim Ice, who will send out long shot New Madrid in the Arkansas Derby. Their horses were actually back at the barn. They just wanted to get a glimpse of Zenyatta.

"She is like Marilyn Monroe," the Frenchman remarked. "Marilyn Monroe would walk into the room and -- boom! Everyone just stopped to stare. Zenyatta is the same. She has the presence, she is unbelievable. For me, I love just to watch her."

Later, Biancone changed his assessment to a comparison of Whitney Houston. And when Zenyatta only completed one lap of the Arkansas oval, he was severely disappointed.

"Oh please, I would have liked to see her just one more time," he said.

Morning gallops

Pulsion was feeling good in his pre-race gallop, bounding down off the turn with a few good-natured leaps and bucks on Thursday morning. Back at the barn, which he shares with Ice's horses, he cooled out nicely and got his legs hosed.

New Madrid, a few stalls down, is a slight but muscled runner -- rather crabby to visitors but perhaps willing to channel that gumption into competitive edge. Let's not forget Ice's maiden winner who entered the Arkansas Derby last year -- oh, yes, his name was Summer Bird.

Noble's Promise should have been the morning-line favorite in the Arkansas; he was runner-up by a nose to Lookin at Lucky in the tough Rebel Stakes last time out, he's geared to go and there's no Lookin' At Lucky this time -- so he could have it sewn up. Noble's Promise looked like a million bucks on the track this morning.

Winner of the unimpressive award was Super Saver, his morning gallop seemed to lack gumption.

Northern Giant was among the first set out on the track for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who prides himself on being the first trainer at the chute every morning when the track opens for training. Stablemate Dublin followed in a later set and will need a solid performance in this race to send him on to the Kentucky Derby.

For more comprehensive information on horse racing, visit Helloracefans.com and Horseracingnation.com and be sure to follow Novak on Facebook and Twitter, @ClaireNovak.

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Lane's End

Call this a dress rehearsal of sorts, a chance to whet the appetite, taste of things to come.

March 27, 2010, 10:51 PM

By: Claire Novak

FLORENCE, Ky. -- Four months ago at the Breeders' Cup, owner Ken Ramsay politicked his way down the Santa Anita apron. He was handing out campaign buttons advertising his stallion, Kitten's Joy, and the five starters that would leave the Breeders' Cup gates that weekend. Among them was Dean's Kitten, a Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf runner whose victory in October 2009 was his most recent going into the Lane's End Stakes.

Kitten's Joy got a resounding advertisement and Mr. Ramsay got his 2010 Kentucky Derby contender when Dean's Kitten rolled to a 2 ½-length victory in Turfway's key prep race on Saturday. Ramsay, who was in Dubai to watch Furthest Land finish a disappointing last in the World Cup, was briefed of the score via cell phone by his family -- including son Jeff and wife Sara -- who gathered in the winner's circle to claim the trophy.

"We're very excited," Jeff Ramsay said after the chestnut colt got his third career win. "It's been my father's lifelong dream, to win the Derby, so he definitely will be running there."

Under jockey Cornelio Velasquez, the 3-year-old homebred was fourth at the quarter pole, third at the half, and rolled to the lead at the top of the stretch. The slow pace set by Ranger Heartley -- a quarter in :24.48 and a half in :48.57 leading to a final time of 1:50.59 for the 1 1/8-mile event -- set up perfectly for the victor.

"I had a ton of horse at the top of the stretch; I was very confident in him," Velasquez said. "I really like this horse; he has a lot of try and he loves the Polytrack."

"We were looking for just what we got," trainer Mike Maker said. "He's been laying a little closer the farther he's been going."

Call this a dress rehearsal of sorts, a chance to whet the appetite, taste of things to come. From here, the question of racing surface comes to mind, because Dean's Kitten has only run once on dirt, and it didn't go well. But there's one thing we know about Ken Ramsay: he won't let a little question like that stop him from chasing Derby dreams.

For more comprehensive information on horse racing, visit Helloracefans.com and Horseracingnation.com and be sure to follow Novak on Facebook and Twitter, @ClaireNovak.

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Rebel review

This race definitely put some more experience on Lookin at Lucky and he answered all our questions

March 13, 2010, 9:23 PM

By: Garrett Gomez

Well, there are two things we learned about Lookin at Lucky today: he can handle the dirt and he can handle traffic trouble. I'm glad to find out the first part, of course. The second I would have rather avoided.

In case you missed it, we won the Rebel Stakes today at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas. If you saw the race you probably thought we were finished at the quarter pole. After we got sawed off and blocked off and clipped heels with Noble's Promise, I did too. I pretty much had a second where I was like, "Great, we're going down!" But I was able to pop up out of the saddle and get him steadied and then the next few strides I just waited on him and gave him a chance to get back up on his feet. He recuperated really well and we were able to go on.

Going into the Rebel, everyone was writing about how Lookin at Lucky was getting blinkers for the first time, but it wasn't something we hadn't thought of before. We really didn't want to mess with him too much last year with the Breeders' Cup coming up but even after the Norfolk in October I was thinking he needed to have something done. We wanted time to test them out, to make sure he didn't get too rank with them and didn't lose what he does well in races. So we waited until after the Breeders' Cup and worked him a couple of times and I actually thought he worked a little better.

This horse does everything so easily and there's no way we've come near to the bottom of him yet. Part of the reason for that is because half of his attention is in the grandstand. In the Norfolk I told Bob I thought I might end up in the infield, he threw the brakes on that much in the stretch, which you can see in the replay. He made the lead and his ears went straight forward and I asked him to stay focused but he wouldn't. I tapped him with the stick a couple times, I threw a cross on him, I hollered at him, all to no effect. Then all of the sudden Pulsion started to come back on the inside and it was like he thought, "Oh, there's another horse, let me pick up the bit!" It was good and bad at the same time because he'd never been two turns and he finished that with no effort whatsoever, but at the same time I had been riding pretty hard and he really wasn't paying attention to me.

If you watch his race in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, somewhat of the same thing happened. I had a wide trip and at the three-eighths pole where I was trying to make a run, but I couldn't make up ground. I was starting to ride a bit and he really wasn't interested. I'm making a little run to the quarter pole and then we hit the stretch and it looks like I might run fourth or fifth, and I'm riding and riding and he's just kind of lackadaisical out there. But when Vale of York swings out and runs up next to him, all of the sudden it's like a different horse jumps on the bridle, and he just takes off. Too bad we missed by little more than a nose.

If you look at his past performances, he's never won by more than a length and three quarters, and the only reason he won by that much is because the other ones had gotten tired behind him. He's never run away from any of his competition and even in his maiden race, I thought I would win by five for fun, but he made the lead and just idled. I told Bob I feel like a sitting duck on him sometimes because once I get put in front, his focus level pretty much isn't there.

Now, I know the talent level is there, and I've always been really high on him. He's won six of seven races and the one he lost was by a head, so the biggest task is trying to keep him focused and I think the blinkers helped with that. Before the race I thought we were throwing a lot at him with his first time on dirt and the addition of the new equipment (little did I know he'd have to handle that rough of a trip), and he aced the test. The blinkers did what we wanted them to do and helped him focus more, just enough to the point where he keeps running in the stretch.

I kind of had to get after him a little today coming down to the wire but I think it was a combination of three things -- stumbling really hard, the fact that he hadn't run in a while, and then just his natural lackadaisical attitude. I think if he hadn't clipped heels I could have sat there as long as I wanted and wheeled out and blown right by them, but that traffic trouble took a lot out of him and it just goes to show you what a good horse he is, finishing up like that.

When we got back to the winner's circle he had one nick right below his left hind ankle but it was a like a little scratch, the kind that horses will accidentally get when they're running and hit themselves sometimes from the shoes. So it didn't look like anything really happened to him as a result of clipping heels and he felt good coming back; he was a little tired but think about if you'd run a long distance and stumbled and then had to get up and keep going strong. All-in-all I was very impressed with his whole race, and he handled the dirt well and felt very good on it.

Last year I faced the surface question with Pioneerof the Nile and we all know how that turned out, closest I've ever gotten to winning the Kentucky Derby. Those horses are a little bit alike but also a little different -- alike in the fact that they both have a nice long stride to them, but different in the fact that this horse is probably a little smarter. He's really got a lot of confidence; he walks around with more of a swagger, and he's also a laid-back kind of horse. Pioneerof the Nile was a little more nervous, you kind of had to calm him down into relaxing for you. At this time last year Pioneerof the Nile was a little taller, a little longer, but this little horse goes out there and, even doing his job halfway, he gallops around there with so much ease that you just have to feel like he could be even better than he already is.

When I first got on him at Santa Anita, when Bob had me work him, I definitely thought he could do what he did last year. When you sit on a horse like that in May, you have this idea of winning the Del Mar Futurity in September and maybe getting lucky enough to win a couple others that season and come back strong as a 3-year-old, and he fulfilled what I thought of him. You're always glad when you were right about one, and he's the one I was very high on from the get-go. This race definitely put some more experience on him and he answered all our questions, so hopefully he takes a step forward and we move on down the Derby trail from here ... if we get lucky!

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