Trainer Bob Baffert already knew he had one legit Kentucky Derby prospect in his barn before Saturday’s races at Hollywood Park. He was going to saddle Lookin At Lucky, who could easily have carried a 5-0 record into the $750,000 Grade 1 CashCall Futurity and who was sent postward as the 1-5 favorite.
Lookin At Lucky didn’t disappoint, scoring a three-quarter length victory over another Derby hopeful, Noble’s Promise, while displaying the type of early tactical speed that could prove invaluable when 2010 rolls around and the Run for the Roses begins in earnest.
There’s no doubting the fact that Lookin At Lucky, at least so far, is Baffert’s new Pioneerof the Nile, a colt who went into last May’s Kentucky Derby with a big shot to give Baffert his fourth Derby victory and ended up finishing second behind boxcar winner Mine That Bird.
But Baffert had two other 2-year-olds — Tiz Chrome and Clutch Player — who scored impressive four-length victories Saturday to stamp themselves as colts to watch on the early Derby trail on a day when Baffert enjoyed the second four-victory afternoon of his career.
Tiz Chrome, a son of Tiznow ridden by Garrett Gomez, followed up his 3 1/4-length maiden score at Churchill Downs on Nov. 1 with a victory in the $53,500 Stuka Stakes. Unlike in his debut, he showed the ability to rate in the Stuka, which is a vital component for serious Derby contenders. His time in the 6 1/2-furlong test? A scorching 1:14.56.
Clutch Player was making his career debut in Saturday’s seventh race, and the son of Malibu Moon went gate to wire in an ultra-impressive 1:08.91 for the six furlongs under Martin Garcia.
But that’s not all Baffert has in his barn. He’s also got Conveyance, who is coming off a seven-length allowance victory on Nov. 25 at Hollywood Park and will make his 2010 debut sometime in January or February at Santa Anita.
The Program, a $310,000 yearling purchase, is making progress after a last-place finish in his debut at Del Mar on Aug. 22 when Baffert said he acted like “a bucking bronco.” He finished fourth in the Futurity, losing the top prize by only a length and a quarter.
But all eyes were on Lookin At Lucky on Saturday.
“That was probably his best race,” Baffert said after the colt won for the fifth time in six tries. “He’s getting better and better. I wish we’d have had the one post in the Breeders’ Cup.”
Instead, Lookin At Lucky had the outside post in the 13-horse Juvenile field, and it likely cost him the race.
Garrett Gomez likes what he sees of the $475,000 yearling purchase, who was more forwardly placed early on Saturday than in his previous five races and turned in another top-notch effort.
“It always looks like he’s stretched to win, but that’s not the case,” Gomez said of the colt who’s won his five races by a total of only five lengths. “He’s going to learn more as he goes along because he’s got a super mind to him.
“We’ve got to get him to where he puts his competition away and sprints to the wire. He’s full of talent and I’m getting even more excited about him.”
Rafael Bejarano, who rode runner-up Noble’s Promise for the first time, was not deterred by the loss.
“My horse came running to the end, he never quit,” Bejarano said. “The other horse just had a better post and that really helped him. I know I can beat him next time.”