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Baffert changes jockeys, wins Preakness with Lookin at Lucky

Photo by Mel Evans

Photo by Mel Evans

BALTIMORE -- Change of jockeys, change of fortune.

Five years ago, Martin Garcia was working in a deli making sandwiches. He couldn't name even one of the Triple Crown races. But the 25-year-old jockey stole one of them Saturday, giving trainer Bob Baffert a Preakness win with a trouble-free ride.

Garcia beat veteran Calvin Borel, who had predicted a Triple Crown sweep after his colt Super Saver won the Kentucky Derby in the muck.

Baffert made a gutsy call between the two races, opting to take veteran Garrett Gomez off Lookin At Lucky, who was anything but in a series of mishaps in big races dating to last year.

"Our luck had to change somehow the way the trips have been," Baffert said.

The little-known jockey from Mexico proved to be up for the job aboard the bay colt in only his second Triple Crown race. Surprisingly, his toughest challenge didn't come from Super Saver. The colt faded to eighth as the 9-5 favorite in the 12-horse field.

"When I asked him, he kind of just folded up. It happens," said Borel, who didn't ride the rail this time -- his signature trip.

Lookin At Lucky won by three quarters of a length over First Dude. Jackson Bend was another head back in third. The winner ran 1 3-16 miles in 1:55.47, giving Baffert his fifth Preakness victory, tying him with D. Wayne Lukas for second all-time.

It was the Hall of Famer's first Triple Crown win since 2002, when War Emblem won at Pimlico.

"When I saw those red colors making that cruise, I thought, 'Oh boy, he's running today,'" Baffert said.

Lucky's win means yet another year will pass without a Triple Crown champion. Affirmed was the last to sweep the Derby, Preakness and Belmont in 1978.

Lookin At Lucky paid $6.80, $4.60 and $3.80 as the 2-1 second choice. First Dude returned $16.60 and $9.20, while Jackson Bend paid $6.60 to show.

Yawanna Twist was fourth, followed by Dublin, Paddy O'Prado and Caracortado. Then came Super Saver, Schoolyard Dreams, Aikenite, Pleasant Prince and Northern Giant.

Things started to look up for Lucky on Wednesday, when he drew the No. 7 post. Super Saver wound up immediately to his outside.

"The draw was so important," Baffert said, and he turned out to be right.

Bad post positions were only part of his colt's misfortunes. When Baffert decided to dump Gomez for Garcia, he traded experience for enthusiasm. Before the race, Garcia kept thanking Baffert for the mount, and the trainer kept telling him to focus on the race.

"Even when I start riding, I don't even know what is Preakness, what is Kentucky, any race," Garcia said. "I just know that I need to go and ride a horse and win. I didn't know anything about big races."

But he knew enough to put his horse in all the right places around the racetrack.

At Churchill Downs, Lookin At Lucky was compromised by his starting position on the rail. He was immediately checked hard along the fence under Gomez, who also was aboard for rough rides in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Rebel Stakes and Santa Anita Derby.

Gomez's streak of bad rides continued aboard Lukas' Dublin, who broke poorly from the 12th post and was not a factor.

Garcia kept Lookin At Lucky in the clear while running mid-pack down the backstretch, behind pacesetting First Dude. He made a big move on the final turn to challenge the surprisingly stubborn First Dude, a 23-1 long shot.

Racing on a dry track under sunny skies, Lookin At Lucky finally took charge in deep stretch.

Garcia came to the United States in 2003, working at a deli in the San Francisco Bay area. The owner introduced him to a former jockey, who got him a job as an exercise rider even though he had no experience.

Two years later he was a jockey, but continued cooking two days a week at the deli in a show of gratitude. He moved to Southern California a year later and found success on the ultra competitive circuit.

His most important new connection was Baffert.

"He came out here today and he was so cool and calm," the trainer said. "He rode a perfect race. Martin can get a horse to settle really well, and I could see he had the horse in a nice rhythm."

The race looked good for Super Saver, too, in the early stages.

Though Borel was unable to get him to the rail he did put the colt in perfect striking position behind First Dude. But turning for home, Super Saver came up empty.

"He run so hard in the Derby," Borel said. "He's not a big horse."

Trainer Todd Pletcher blamed the two-week Derby turnaround for the horse's poor showing.

"He tried hard. It was a little quick for him," he said. "I wouldn't trade the Derby for anything. We got the one we wanted the most."

Baffert already has three Derbys. But with so many years between Triple Crown wins, he wondered when the next one would come.

Now a rising star has put Baffert back on top.

"Hope you show up Monday to work my horses," he said, laughing.

"Every day," Garcia replied.