Part of me was waiting for Lookin at Lee to gain a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate, and part of me was dreading it. He did not have enough points to get in on his own, but with Saturday's scratches of Malagacy and Battalion Runner by Todd Pletcher he found his way in. I've liked this horse for a long time now, and I have lost money consistently betting on him. There is a lot to like, but he has yet to be quite good enough, and he'll have to have the best day of his life next Saturday if he wants to finally prove himself.
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Last race: The Arkansas Derby effort was a very solid third-place finish. He settled way off the pace early on and looked unbothered by anything that was going on. He methodically moved forward, and around the final turn he tested a couple of different paths before settling on one. He wasn't explosive in the stretch but he never faltered and looked happy to keep running. He passed horses in the stretch but never legitimately threatened the top two. It wasn't the best prep performance of the season, but it was professional.
Prior experience: There are a lot of inexperienced horses in the Derby field this year, but this is not one of them. Lookin at Lee comes into the Derby with nine career starts. He made his debut in June at Churchill Downs in a race that didn't go particularly well. He took a detour to the lower levels of racing for his next two races. At Ellis Park he broke his maiden and then came back to win an ungraded stakes. You can't help but note that those are the only two wins of his career. Next up he headed back to Churchill for his graded stakes debut in the Iroquois. He finished second behind only Not This Time, who would have been among the Derby favorites if he weren't injured. That was a very solid result. He was second again in the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland, this time trailing Classic Empire, the two-year-old champion who could be the Derby favorite. He finished his two-year-old year with a fourth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, again behind Classic Empire and Not This Time, along with Practical Joke, who he will face again in the Derby.
He spent his three-year-old year up to the point he arrived in Kentucky at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas. In the Southwest in February he closed hard to finish third. Next out in the Rebel he flopped, running out of gas and finishing sixth. And then it was the Arkansas Derby. He has been consistently well off the pace early on, so we can expect him to avoid the typical early Derby chaos here.
Trainer: This is Steve Asmussen's third horse in the field along with Hence and Untrapped. Asmussen knows how to win races - no active trainer has won more, and only one trainer in history has. Asmussen is only 51, too, so he is all but a lock to set the all-time record. Amongst those victories is not a Derby, but with two Preakness wins and a Belmont he is certainly capable of being ready on big days.
Jockey: Corey Lanerie. This is a new rider for the horse, though he has had five different riders in his career, so the change isn't going to throw him off. I don't love the choice. Lanerie is the definition of a journeyman rider. He has been around forever but doesn't consistently perform at the highest level - or even get the chance. He's fine, but he won't steal one for the horse. Seeing him on a horse you like is like seeing Brian Hoyer named starting QB for your team. You could do worse, but you could also do much better. Despite a career spanning almost two decades, this is just his third Derby start. He previously rode in 2014 and last year.
Breeding: Lookin at Lee is, not surprisingly given the name, a son of Lookin at Lucky, the 2010 Preakness winner who was named both two-year-old and three-year-old champion. He hasn't yet had a breakthrough in the breeding shed, and he was not at his best in his two tries at 10 furlongs - sixth in the Derby and fourth in the Breeders' Cup Classic - so his presence makes me feel better about the class of Lookin at Lee than the stamina. Lookin at Lucky is a son of Smart Strike like Curlin is, though, so the stamina isn't totally hopeless. Lookin at Lee's Damsire is Langfuhr. He was an accomplished sprinter but has provided more stamina in his offspring - Wando won a Canadian Triple Crown, and Lawyer Ron was a warrior. So, while there is a lot to like in the pedigree of this colt, there are definitely pedigrees in the race that lend themselves better to the mile and a quarter distance. The horse himself has given every indication that he has the ability to get the distance.
Odds: BetOnline has Lookin at Lee at +3500, which makes him the 14th choice in the likely 20-horse field. That price is fair. In the final Kentucky Derby future wager, which was held by Churchill Downs two weeks before the Arkansas Derby, he was not one of the 23 horses individually listed, so he is part of the 11/1 mutuel field - a field which should include about five horses in the Derby, including Irap, Hence, Fast and Accurate and Patch.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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