Kentucky Derby contender to run in March?

Jan 26, 2010 5:07 PM

Golden Edge by Ed Golden |

Blinkers for Baffert’s Lookin at Lucky

"Blinkers," as defined by the American Association of Equine Practitioners, are "a cup-shaped device to limit a horse’s vision to prevent him from swerving from objects or other horses on either side of it. Blinker cups come in a variety of sizes and shapes to allow as little or as much vision as the trainer feels is necessary."

According to regulators in almost every racing state, blinkers cannot be added to a horse’s equipment after a winning effort, based on the "If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it" axiom. But that’s hardly written in granite.

"If racing boards didn’t take an informal approach to this, it could open a can of worms," one racing official said. "If a trainer wants to put blinkers on his horse after it wins but the rule says he can’t unless it’s coming off a losing race, what’s to prevent the trainer from losing on purpose? The negative ramifications are obvious."

That’s why a horse that has won five of six starts and was named champion male 2-year-old of 2009 will make his next start wearing blinkers for the first time. That would be Kentucky Derby Future Book favorite Lookin At Lucky, who is expected to make his 3-year-old debut on March 13 in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita.

The change was something both Garrett Gomez, who has ridden the colt in every race, and Bob Baffert, Lookin At Lucky’s Hall of Fame trainer, had been contemplating for some time before putting them on for a workout a few weeks ago.

"We both recommended it," Gomez said. "It was something I had in the back of my mind, but he was winning, so I didn’t press the issue. I figured if it wasn’t broke, don’t fix it. But there was a lot more there that he wasn’t giving.

"I told Bob, ‘He’s very useful and he’s very alert at what he’s doing,’ but he has to call on a lot more confidence if he’s left on the lead by himself. If there’s a horse out wide that he doesn’t see, you’re beat. He responds against horses that come back on him if we’re shoulder to shoulder."

Gomez, a two-time Eclipse Award winner as the nation’s outstanding rider and a finalist last year, had a hint after winning the Norfolk Stakes at 11/16 miles by nearly two lengths last Oct. 4 that Lookin At Lucky was leaving something in the tank.

"That was his first race around two turns, and he went by the leaders and should have won by five," Gomez said. "He put the brakes on, and even after he did that, a horse on the inside came to him, but with no effort at all, my horse eased away from the field.

"It’s not like he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do, but he loses his concentration. I think blinkers help, and I think Bob had it in the back of his mind that they would be beneficial. We were waiting for the right time. We couldn’t really do it in his last race (a three-quarter length victory in the CashCall Futurity Dec. 19). We sensed that he might need them, but at the same time, he was so laid back, we didn’t want to mess with him, because it might have changed him for the worse.

"But since he’s worn them, he’s stayed the same, except now, when his task is at hand, he’s more focused. Hopefully, that will take him to another level."

Joe Steiner concurs. The former jockey who now exercises Baffert’s blue blood stock says blinkers help Lookin At Lucky pay attention.

"They keep him a little more focused," Steiner said. "That’s the key, I think. He’s a laid-back kind of horse. You can place him anywhere. Like I told Bob, ‘He’s a rider’s dream.’ The concern with putting blinkers on is that he might become rank. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. He’s still the same old horse. When I worked him, he was still just as relaxed as he was with the blinkers off.

"We’re looking for him to stay focused with the blinkers when he passes horses, instead of just saying, ‘I’m done.’ So far, it’s worked, because he’s doing what we intended. That’s why we put them on."

THE HOMESTRETCH

News you can bet on: verbatim from my column a month ago: "Although Zenyatta has had retirement ceremonies at Hollywood Park and Santa Anita since winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 7, she also has had at least one published half-mile workout at her Hollywood headquarters, on Dec. 21, raising speculation that she might race again. Don’t bet against it.". . . It wasn’t the greatest challenge of all time, but I went nine for nine in my Eclipse Awards selections, including Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra. If Rachel and Zenyatta meet on the track, it will be at least a month away, since Rachel hadn’t had her first workout at press time. Zenyatta already was up to five furlongs, and probably would be race-ready after reaching seven.

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Ed Golden