LOUISVILLE — It may have come about through unfortunate circumstances, but Lookin At Lucky has regained the role of favorite for Saturday's Kentucky Derby.
Of all the contenders, no horse has racked up more graded stakes wins, won more money or answered as many questions than Lookin At Lucky .
While the 136th Kentucky Derby lost its expected favorite when Eskendereya was declared out Sunday because of injury, the race still boasts the colt who has been the most consistent among a deep group of 3-year-olds.
Though his wins are more notable for their grit than their flash, reigning 2-year-old champion Lookin At Lucky comes into the Derby with the most accomplished résumé.
"I'm thinking he'll be right around 3-1 — not as solid as Eskendereya would have been, but still pretty solid," Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia told The Associated Press. "Then I'll probably have Sidney's Candy at right around 6-1 or 8-1, and then Awesome Act at right around the same odds."
Five victories in graded stakes, including three Grade I wins, make up the six wins Lookin At Lucky has posted in his eight career starts while earning $1,513,000. Were it not for Vale of York getting his head down at the wire at Santa Anita, Lookin At Lucky would also count the Breeders' Cup Juvenile among his conquests.
Such potential is the reason three-time Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert convinced owners Mike Pegram, Karl Watson, and Paul Weitman to go to $475,000 in the bidding to obtain the youngster at the April 2009 Keeneland 2-year-olds-in-training sale.
"Bob was high on this one from the sale right on through," said Watson, who was at Churchill Monday when Lookin At Lucky worked 5 furlongs in 1:00.80 — the fastest of the day at that distance — in his final pre-Derby workout. "This horse, he's just an athlete. He's bred well, he's handled adversity, he's got a good mind on him. He just has a lot of good qualities."
Despite not being foaled until May, Lookin At Lucky has dispelled any notion he was behind his fellow 3-year-olds in terms of development.
After breaking his maiden first time out going 6 furlongs at Hollywood Park in July, the colt dived right into stakes company and racked up definitive victories in the Grade II Best Pal Stakes, Grade I Del Mar Futurity and Grade I Norfolk Stakes heading into the Breeders' Cup.
Though he fell just short in the Juvenile, Lookin At Lucky showed some grit when he battled back from an extremely wide trip from the outside post No. 13 to get up for second.
"He's so gritty and if (jockey) Garrett (Gomez) can just get him in the right spot, and give him a chance to win, that's all he needs," Baffert said. "If he turns for home and he's right there he's going to give it his all. He wants to win, he has a fierce competitive streak, as we've seen."
For better or worst, Lookin At Lucky's determination has been put to the test this year.
During his 3-year-old debut in the Grade II Rebel Stakes over the dirt at Oaklawn Park in March, Lookin At Lucky was knocked off stride when he clipped heels with Noble's Promise, but he still recovered to edge that one by a head at the wire for the win.
That troubled trip was nothing compared to the third-place finish Lookin At Lucky had in the Santa Anita Derby when he lost all momentum after getting bumped on the far turn by Who's Up and jockey Victor Espinoza, an incident that resulted in a three-day suspension for Espinoza and some harsh words from Baffert for Gomez.
"Garrett has had him in some really tough spots, and he's been the main target," Baffert said. "In the Kentucky Derby, I don't think anyone will be looking around for Lookin At Lucky. Everybody will be worried about their own horse and trying to get a piece of it."
If there is a bright side to all the trouble Lookin At Lucky has found, it's that he's not likely to be rattled should he get in a tight spot come Derby Day.
As much as Baffert appreciates the colt's athleticism, he also knows he can't afford to tackle such obstacles in the most important race of his life.
"You don't clip heels in the Derby and win, unless you're (1987 winner) Alysheba," Baffert said.
If there has been one constant for Lookin At Lucky, however, it's that he has routinely shown he can rise above.
"This horse is like Mickey Mantle," Pegram said of the colt's aura. "He's the kind of horse you love to be around, and he's the type you dream about owning."