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Derby season heats up with 3 key preps

Bob Baffert has long been know for his off-the-cuff quips and wry remarks in response to the tough questions.

On Saturday, it will be the Baffert-trained Lookin At Lucky that must deliver the answers.

Reigning 2-year-old champion Lookin At Lucky will make his 3-year-old debut against a talented field of six rivals in the Grade II Rebel Stakes over 11⁄16-miles at Oaklawn Park.

The Rebel is among a trio of top Kentucky Derby prep races on tap for Saturday, along with the Grade II San Felipe at Santa Anita Park, featuring the undefeated Caracortado, and the Grade III Tampa Bay Derby, which will mark the 2010 debut of Grade II winner Super Saver.

Lookin At Lucky's outing this weekend is almost certain to clear up some questions about his résumé.

The colt — who hasn't run since Dec. 19 — will make his first start over dirt, his first start outside California and will wear blinkers for the first time in his career.

"He's going to answer a lot of questions," Baffert said. "We know what he can do here (in California). He's going to be on dirt, wearing blinkers... he's never shipped anywhere. So there's ... a lot of hoops he's got to jump through.

"If we're going to do an experiment it's got to be done in this race, not the next race. I think we're going to find out a lot about him."

A winner of five of six lifetime starts, the only blemish on Lookin At Lucky's record was a narrow runner-up finish to Vale of York in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile after enduring an extremely wide trip.

Baffert decided to go with blinkers after a talk with regular jockey Garrett Gomez.

"(Garrett) thought he'd be a little bit more focused (with blinkers) because when he makes the lead he sort of shuts it down," Baffert said. "And he says he doesn't respond from the whip at all.

"So far he's been working with blinkers and he's been working very well with it. It's a very small cup anyway."

Grade I winner Noble's Promise, who has finished behind Lookin At Lucky the two times they have faced each other, will also be making his 3-year-old debut while trying dirt for the first time in the Rebel.

The D. Wayne Lukas-trained Dublin, runner-up in the Southwest Stakes, is also in the Rebel field and will be aiming for his first win beyond 7 furlongs.

With a 5-for-5 career record, the only question for the Mike Machowsky-trained Caracortado is if he can keep his flawless form intact when he faces six rivals in the 11⁄16-mile San Felipe.

Caracortado was an impressive winner of the Robert B. Lewis Stakes on Feb. 13, defeating San Felipe rivals Dave in Dixie and American Lion. Caracortado will have more to contend with Saturday in Grade III winner Interactif and San Vicente Stakes winner Sidney's Candy.

"I'm not worried about him, you know, running on dirt and all that," said Machowsky, who indicated the Santa Anita Derby over the track's synthetic surface would be Caracortado's final prep.

Super Saver will make his first start since winning the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs in November, facing six challengers in the 11⁄16-mile Tampa Bay Derby.

Super Saver is the only graded stakes winner in the field but he could get a stiff challenge from Odysseus, who is coming off a 15-length victory in a Tampa Bay Downs allowance race on Feb. 17.

The Tampa Bay Derby field also includes Uptowncharlybrown, who won the Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs by 6 lengths on Jan. 16 before finishing third to Rule in the Sam F. Davis Stakes over the same track last month.

Schoolyard Dreams, who finished second in the Sam Davis, is also in the Tampa Bay Derby field.