05/16/2010 12:00AM

'Lucky' gets perfect Preakness trip

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Barbara D. Livingston
Lookin At Lucky wins the 135th Preakness Stakes under jockey Martin Garcia.

BALTIMORE - Five years ago, Martin Garcia, recently arrived from his native Mexico, was working in a deli in Northern California near Pleasanton racetrack when a patron walked in and asked him, based on his size, if he had ever thought of being a jockey.

Thus began the most unlikely of ascensions. Like a budding actor discovered by an agent while sitting at a bus stop, Garcia, 25, has become a riding star. His profile has risen under the direction of trainer Bob Baffert, who in recent months has entrusted him with his best mounts. On Saturday, that partnership scored its biggest victory yet, when Lookin At Lucky, the beaten favorite two weeks earlier in the Kentucky Derby, captured the 135th running of the on a gorgeous, spring day at Pimlico Race Course.

For Baffert, it was his fifth victory in the Preakness. For Garcia, who only rode in his first Triple Crown race two weeks ago aboard Conveyance in the Derby, it was his first Triple Crown race win.

"We've been clicking," said Baffert, whose biggest previous victory with Garcia came with Misremembered in the Santa Anita Handicap in March. "I've just been winning with him. He can finish. He's so young, I don't think he realized the magnitude of the race."

Lookin At Lucky needed the length of the stretch to get past a tenacious First Dude, a 23-1 shot who put away the Derby winner, Super Saver, at the head of the lane and fought on bravely once hooked by Lookin At Lucky. At the wire, Lookin At Lucky was best by three-quarters of a length, with Jackson Bend knifing between horses to finish third, just a head behind First Dude.

Super Saver, the 9-5 favorite, faded to finish eighth. Neither Lookin At Lucky nor Super Saver is expected to run in the final leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes, on June 5, meaning a different horse will win all three legs of this year's Triple Crown. No one has swept the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978. That is the longest drought between Triple Crown winners since the first horse to sweep all three races, Sir Barton, in 1919.

Lookin At Lucky ($6.80), sent off the second choice behind favored Super Saver, completed 1 3/16 miles on the fast main track in 1:55.47. He had been the favorite in all nine of his previous starts.

Lookin At Lucky had been ridden in his nine previous starts by Garrett Gomez. But Gomez was replaced on Lookin At Lucky after a rough trip in the Derby, in which they finished sixth. The Derby followed a tough trip in the Santa Anita Derby, in which they finished third.

Gomez rode Dublin in the Preakness, and they finished fifth after a poor start.

Garcia gave Lookin At Lucky a perfect trip. They were in a bit of traffic coming through the lane the first time, but they were able to save ground around the first turn before moving outside horses for a clear run down the backstretch. According to Garcia, Baffert "told me to just break good, save ground on the first turn."

"The second half-mile, just try to get in the clear where you don't have too many problems," Garcia said.

First Dude, with Super Saver pressing him, had led through fractions of 22.91 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, 46.47 for a half-mile, and 1:11.22 for the first six furlongs. As the field neared the far turn, Lookin At Lucky moved four paths wide, just outside Caracortado, to vie for the lead.

Lookin At Lucky surged to the front coming off the bend, but First Dude fought back, and those two had a spirited battle through the lane.

"Today was about redemption, and we got it," said Mike Pegram, who owns Lookin At Lucky along with Karl Watson and Paul Weitman.

Pegram also won a Preakness in tandem with Baffert in 1998 with Real Quiet. Lookin At Lucky's owners received a first-place prize of $600,000 from an overall purse of $1 million.

Pegram is the brother of Garcia's agent, Jim Pegram.

Lookin At Lucky was last year's champion 2-year-old male, when he won 5 of 6 starts, his lone loss coming when second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He has now won seven times in 10 starts.

Super Saver tired badly and wound up 11 1/2 lengths behind Lookin At Lucky.

"Perfect trip," said his jockey, Calvin Borel. "He just came up empty today."

Dale Romans, the trainer of First Dude, was happy with his colt's effort.

"I had confidence that he's a top horse; I think he showed today that he could compete with the best," Romans said.

Romans said First Dude went to the lead because of a strong start under jockey Ramon Dominguez.

"He broke so sharp, and Ramon said he was going deceivingly fast," Romans said. "He felt like was just galloping out there, so he was comfortable with it. It looks like he's galloping, even though he's going fast. I think he has the ability to go fast and keep going, and he'll take a few horses out of their game doing that, but Ramon said when they came to him he had horse left and he just couldn't hold him off today."

Nick Zito, the trainer of Jackson Bend, thought his tiny colt "should have been second easy."

"At the half-mile pole, Calvin had no horse but he kept him in," Zito said, referring to Borel on Super Saver. "If he could have got out then, he's right there, but that's racing luck. He ran great."

- additional reporting by David Grening