05/17/2017 12:26PM

Lookin At Lee giving owners a thrill

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Barbara D. Livingston
Lookin At Lee became the first horse to hit the board in the Derby from post 1 since 1988.

Drawing the dreaded rail post in the cavalry charge that is the Kentucky Derby is a daunting prospect for more reasons than are obvious at first glance. That became apparent to Lookin At Lee, who began the May 6 Derby from post 1, and his trainer, Steve Asmussen.

“You know the statistics from the 1 hole, and you’ve watched the race and how troubling the crowding can be or whatever,” said Asmussen. “I did not consider the lack of room for the horse individually in the paddock to saddle. You had to move people out just to get him in it to saddle. That was a bit surprising. But Lookin At Lee was the perfect horse for it. He hung out there, waited his turn, and was ready to go when they called upon him.

“On normal days, you don’t saddle [the No. 1 horse] until about three or four stalls down. The outriders’ horses are in the first few spots, and you’re down a ways. You don’t use all 20 stalls except for the Derby. But the 1 hole for the Derby, with the [paddock] gate right there and the amount of people, the celebrity making the ‘riders up’ call, and all the camera crews are directly in front of the horse in the 1. It takes a good personality – Lookin At Lee’s temperament – for that not to alarm them a bit.”

Not only did Lookin At Lee handle the prerace hoopla with aplomb, but under a rail-skimming ride from Corey Lanerie, he came on to finish second, 2 3/4 lengths behind Always Dreaming.

With his effort, Lookin At Lee became the first horse since Risen Star (third in 1988) to finish on the board in the Kentucky Derby after breaking from the rail. Not even his own sire, two-time Eclipse Award champion Lookin At Lucky, could accomplish the feat, finishing sixth with a nightmare trip. Now, like Risen Star and Lookin At Lucky, Lookin At Lee will attempt to step forward with a victory in the Preakness Stakes. Risen Star also went on to romp in the Belmont Stakes.

“We have no control of how the other horses run, but we always feel like he does his best,” Asmussen, who was visibly full of pride immediately after the Derby, said this week.

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Lookin At Lee is the best runner to date for the fairly new ownership group L and N Racing, based out of Tulsa, Okla. The four-way partnership comprises attorney Lee Levinson and his sons Andy and Michael, accounting for the ‘L’ in the moniker, and prosecutor Don Nelson, a family friend of the Levinsons and the ‘N’ in the stable name. Lee Levinson, for whom Lookin At Lee is named, dabbled in Thoroughbred ownership approximately 25 years ago but didn’t have the resources to invest in the sport at a high level. He recommitted to the sport by forming the new partnership about two years ago, with L and N starting its first horse in June 2015.

“I got to the stage in life that I didn’t mind spending some money to try to do what I always wanted to do,” Levinson said. “I wanted to do it the right way.”

The right way included purchasing some youngsters during the elite Book 1 portion of the 2015 Keeneland September yearling sale and turning them over to Asmussen – whom Lee Levinson met through fellow Tulsa attorney Clark Brewster, who also has horses with the trainer. One of those colts was the $60,000 purchase Hard to Impress, a full brother to Grade 1 winner Zo Impressive and a half to Grade 1 winner Zaftig. The colt won his maiden last week at Lone Star Park, becoming L and N’s first winner this year.

The other colt, slightly more expensive at $70,000, was Lookin At Lee, who is out of the graded-stakes-placed Langfuhr mare Langara Lass.

“Steve liked him very much,” Nelson said. “He said he was a steal. He thought he’d go for $150,000, $175,000. And Keith, his dad, he doesn’t say much. All he told me was, ‘Don, this colt here can run a little.’ ”

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Lookin At Lee, who received his early training at Keith Asmussen’s farm in Texas, quickly rewarded the investment by winning the Ellis Park Juvenile last August, becoming L and N’s first stakes winner. He followed up by finishing second in the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes to Not This Time and second in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity to Classic Empire; Classic Empire and Not This Time went on to sweep the exacta in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile – in which Lookin At Lee was fourth – with Classic Empire earning the divisional Eclipse Award.

Lookin At Lee took the Arkansas route to the Kentucky Derby, finishing third in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes, sixth in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes, and bouncing back to be third behind Classic Empire and Conquest Mo Money in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby. He gets another shot at those two as well as Always Dreaming on Saturday, carrying the colors of a partnership that is savoring its shot.

“It’s a dream come true, to be totally honest,” Lee Levinson said. “Even if you buy good horses, your chances of getting one this good are not great. So, I realize what we have. It might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Who knows?”