Sire gives Lee chance of Lookin for revenge
Kentucky Derby runner-up out to match Lucky strike at Pimlico
Having appeared a patently superior winner of the Kentucky Derby, Always Dreaming will start at corresponding odds for the second leg of the Triple Crown on Saturday. On closer inspection, however, there are both intrinsic and historic grounds for the team behind Lookin At Lee, who produced a breakout performance when runner-up at Churchill Downs, to feel positive about their Preakness rematch.
Apart from anything else, of course, there is the fact that the Run For The Roses turned into one of those races where only the winning jockey still had pristine silks on pulling up - a literal symbol of his clean trip. Lookin At Lee, in contrast, had been drawn next to the rail and obliged to plough his way through the slop from the very rear of the 20-runner stampede. With jockey Corey Lanerie doing an admirable imitation of Calvin Borel - another Louisiana native, who cut a daring seam along the fence to win the 2007 and 2009 runnings respectively, on Street Sense and Mine That Bird - he became the first horse to make the frame from "the one hole" in 20 years.
Last year’s Preakness, moreover, offers an encouraging precedent: Exaggerator, a late-running second at Churchill, having turned the tables on Nyquist on a very different surface at Pimlico. And then, above all, there is the example of Lookin At Lee's own sire, who graduated from a rough trip into sixth in Louisville to win the 2010 Preakness - with the Derby winner Super Saver, incidentally from the same barn as Always Dreaming, bombing out.
Lookin At Lucky admittedly had a very different profile. Steve Asmussen was rolling the dice with his son, whose strong finish for third in the Arkansas Derby had suggested that the extra demands on his stamina would draw out talent otherwise measured by odds of 33-1 in Louisville. Lookin At Lucky, in contrast, had been a triple Grade 1 winner at two, when also beaten only a head in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
It was a stunning campaign for a colt who had failed to sell at $35,000 at Keeneland the previous September. He evidently had a few veterinary issues at the time, in his stifles and ankles, albeit not of a type uncommon in developing animals. Any disappointment experienced by his breeders - Lance Robinson and Jerry Bailey, who had earlier pinhooked Thunder Gulch - was amply assuaged when they put him back through the same ring the following April. This time their son of Smart Strike had put in a bullet breeze and he joined Bob Baffert himself for $475,000.
He raced in the colours of Mike Pegram, for whom Baffert had won the Derby and Preakness in 1998 with Real Quiet, a $17,000 yearling - once again, the result of veterinarian red lights. (Baffert called Real Quiet "The Fish": he looked fine from the side, but surprisingly narrow when he turned front on.)
After winning the Preakness, Lookin At Lucky had a decider with Super Saver in the Haskell, breaking his rival in a stretch duel before surging four lengths clear. After winning his warm-up, he signed off with a supporting role in the memorable Breeders' Cup Classic in which Zenyatta just failed to save her unbeaten record. Beaten four lengths into fourth by Blame, he was retired to Ashford Stud - the first of four straight Eclipse Award-winning juveniles to do so - at $35,000.
His fee has since halved, despite putting together a perfectly presentable record. Though third behind Quality Road and old rival Super Saver in the freshmen's prizemoney table, he came out best both by wins and individual winners; and has subsequently come up with a very consistent spread of stakes performers, six making the frame at Grade 1 level without quite pulling out that breakthrough win.
By the same sire as Curlin, he is out of a Belong To Me mare, Private Feeling. It was the Mr Prospector-Danzig cross, through the sires of Smart Strike and Belong To Me, that appealed to the breeders of Lookin At Lucky.
Danzig, through Langfuhr, is also the grandsire of Langara Lass - winner of four stakes in Canada, and already dam of a Grade 1-placed filly by Proud Citizen when she delivered a colt by Lookin At Lucky in March 2014. He went on to make $70,000 as a Keeneland September yearling, and was named Lookin At Lee.
Langara Lass was out of a $17,000 daughter of Demons Begone, who had started favourite for the 1987 Derby after winning the Rebel and Arkansas Derby but bled. There was no immediate distinction in the family, but Lookin At Lee's fourth dam was a sister to the dam of Danzig's multiple stakes-winning sprinter Boundary - the sire of Big Brown.
So while there are bright sparks of speed in this pedigree, his running style makes it plain that he is drawing on the strains of Classic stamina associated with Smart Strike. Moreover Private Feeling's first son, by the speedy Mr Greeley, had been able to stretch out to win the Jim Dandy over nine furlongs.
Asmussen acclaimed Lookin At Lee’s Derby run as a proper "blue-collar effort". Lanerie, having his first ride in the race, had been so excited by the way his mount picked them off, one by one, that at one stage he thought he might win - only to find that the winner had stolen a decisive first run.
Asked about his daring rail-scraping ride, a la Borel, he shrugged: "We all come up from Cajun County, and that's what we’re taught. I get beat a lot, but we win a lot, too." On Saturday, perhaps, he might be able to say the same for a sire who has peppered the Grade 1 board - and is surely closing on a bull's-eye.