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THE DIRT ON BAFFERT
Southern California stakes horses trained by Bob Baffert are diggin' the dirt in Arkansas. Lookin At Lucky gave Baffert a 3-for-3 record in stakes this meet at Oaklawn when he overcame trouble to win last weekend's . And like stablemates Conveyance and Freedom Star, who won stakes in late February and early March, his first dirt start resulted in a significant Beyer Speed Figure.
Lookin At Lucky earned a career-best 97 for his Rebel win, which came in his first start since December. Conveyance took the at Oaklawn on March 6.
Each was impressive, but none more so than the champ. Lookin At Lucky, who closed for a head win over Noble's Promise, had to jump over a rival's heels down the backside in the Rebel. He was forced to check, losing his momentum approaching the final turn.
"Basically, what happened there was a little race-riding going on," Baffert said of the incident. "They put the squeeze on him, and he was in a spot. But the horse overcame it, so he showed that extra gear, and he dug down deep. He's got that heart, because not only is he a great athlete, he's a good horse. But he's got the will to win, and that's half the battle right there."
Lookin At Lucky improved his record to 6 for 7 with his win in the Rebel.
And he wasn't the lone Southern California shipper to win in his first dirt start last week at Oaklawn. Barney Bass, who had raced exclusively on synthetic or turf surfaces out west since launching his career in February 2009, won his Oaklawn debut March 11. He was dismissed at 18-1, then went out and wired the field for trainer Larry Frazee.
Baffert could see more stakes action this meet, with Misremembered a candidate for the Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap on April 3. He also said Lookin At Lucky will be considered for the Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 10.
Noble's Promise is targeting the Arkansas Derby. He, too, put up a career-best Beyer in the Rebel in what was his first start on dirt. Last year, Noble's Promise won the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity on Polytrack at Keeneland.
Since then, he has formed a rivalry with Lookin At Lucky. Noble's Promise was third to Vale of York and Lookin At Lucky in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, then was second to Lookin At Lucky, beaten three-quarters of a length, in in both of their season finales Dec. 19.
"We keep closing ground on him every time we run against him," said Ken McPeek, who trains Noble's Promise.
DUBLIN A TRIP HORSE AGAIN
Dublin finished third in the Rebel, beaten three lengths by Lookin At Lucky after a demanding trip. It was the second tough-luck race for Dublin, who stumbled at the start of the Southwest, found himself well back, then came rolling for second to Conveyance. Last weekend, Dublin raced wide after breaking from post 7.
"In a seven-horse field you wouldn't think all seven of them would break in a line like that, but they did, and they all hit that turn together," said D. Wayne Lukas, who trains Dublin.
Lukas said Dublin is headed to the Arkansas Derby.
FAST TRACK OR GOOD HORSES?
The temperatures remain agreeable at Oaklawn, where the track was quick last week and the meet's fastest times for 5 1/2 furlongs and 1 1/16 miles were achieved.
Chief of Affairs came close to setting a track record for 5 1/2 furlongs March 11, when he ran the distance in 1:02.91. He earned a 107 Beyer and is likely headed next to the Grade 3, $150,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap on April 9, trainer Bret Calhoun said.
Lookin At Lucky ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.06 when he won the Rebel. He remains one of the early favorites for the Kentucky Derby.
ON THE STAKES DOCKET
Grade 1 winner Hot Dixie Chick stands out among the list of nominees for the $60,000 Prima Donna here Saturday. The six-furlong race is for 3-year-old fillies. It was reinstated in 2008 after a 10-year absence, and its last two runnings have been taken by quality fillies Palanka City and She's Our Annie.
The Prima Donna will share a card with the $60,000 Hot Springs for older sprinters at six furlongs. Ez Dreamer, who is a half-brother to Kentucky Derby hopeful Uh Oh Bango, could go favored .
TALES FROM THE TRACK
The break will be key for participants in this weekend's sprint stakes. But the start of a race was never necessarily central to horses trained by the late Charlie Whittingham.
"Charlie Whittingham really made his reputation running route horses and was never one to train for speed or try to get a horse into the race quickly from the gate," trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. "So we're at the gate one morning, and he rides up there with this young horse and says to the [starter], 'Stick him in the gate. I need a gate card.' So they stick three of us in there together, and they kick it. The other two [horses] just leave there like a scalded dog, and Charlie's jogs a couple of steps, then starts in a lope.
"I mean, he literally jogs away from the gate, and Charlie says to the [starter], 'Hey, give him a card. I didn't say I wanted him on the lead!' "
HORSES TO WATCH
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Last race: March 13, 2nd
Finish: 7th by 9
Favored in a maiden special weight route race, he did not get the break from his rail post and found himself farther off the pace than he has been in his best races. He came in from Southern California with stablemate Lookin At Lucky and was making his first start on dirt. He is expected to get another shot on the surface, since Baffert said he was scheduled to remain at Oaklawn.
Trainer: Grant Forster
Last race: March 11, 5th
Finish: 3rd by 3 3/4
He showed grit in the stretch run of a first-level allowance route. He had set the pace on the stretchout from six furlongs to 1 1/16 miles and nearing the wire became surrounded by rivals on either side. He never gave up the fight and continues to move forward with each of his starts since last spring. Quiet Thanks was bred by Eileen Hartis, who also bred Grade 1 winner Got Koko.
Trainer: Tim Martin
Last race: March 12, 5th
Finish: 6th by 8 3/4
He took the worst of it in a $25,000 conditioned claiming route when he was trapped behind horses for much of the one-mile race. Just as he found a seam along the rail, the stick of a rival began flailing about him, a situation that can be intimidating for a horse. He has back class as one who is multiple stakes-placed and was claimed out of the race by Martin.