BALTIMORE - Bob Baffert switched jockeys to try to change Lookin At Lucky's luck, and he rolled a lucky seven from post 7.
Martin Garcia, a 25-year-old Mexican, rallied Lookin At Lucky wide on the far turn and the colt battled gamely through the stretch to win the 135th Preakness Stakes Saturday before a crowd of 95,760 at Pimlico. Coming in second, three-quarters of a length behind, was 23-1 First Dude, who held on well after setting the pace. Jackson Bend, at 11-1, ran third, a head farther back.
"In the stretch, I thought, 'Please, don't let anybody run me down,' " Baffert said. "We've been through so much with this horse. He's a warrior and he just fights so hard."
For the 32nd consecutive year, there will be no Triple Crown sweep. Kentucky Derby hero Super Saver chased First Dude for about a mile before backing up to eighth, 11½ lengths behind, under Calvin Borel.
Trainer Todd Pletcher made no excuses for his 9-5 favorite. "I thought Calvin gave him a perfect trip," he said. "Coming off a huge effort in the Derby, two weeks was too short. He tried hard. I wouldn't trade the Derby for anything. We got the one we wanted most."
Schoolyard Dreams, a 15-1 shot co-owned by Jericho resident Eric Fein, was ninth, three-quarters of a length behind Super Saver.
Garcia worked out the trouble-free trip for which his mount was long overdue. Lookin At Lucky was fifth between horses in about the 3-path entering the first turn. He remained in fifth, about 3 lengths behind, through 6 furlongs in a moderate 1:11.22 before Garcia swung him four-wide. Lookin At Lucky made his winning move at the three-eighths pole, staying in the 4-path as he bore down on First Dude. Lookin At Lucky led by a half-length at the eighth pole and inched away from the determined pacesetter.
"When I asked him to go, he kicked," Garcia said. "He has long strides. Then in the stretch, he took off again and I said to myself, 'I think this race is gonna be mine.'
"It means a lot to me," said Garcia, a former delicatessen worker competing in his first Preakness. "I want to thank Bob and the horse's connections for letting me ride him. The main thing Bob told me was to save ground through the first turn, then just do whatever you want."
Lookin At Lucky, last year's 2-year-old champion, had brutal trips in his previous two races for jockey Garrett Gomez. The son of Smart Strike was a distant third in the Santa Anita Derby before coming in sixth in the Kentucky Derby, where he was slammed twice in the first quarter-mile. "Today was about redemption," co-owner Mike Pegram said, "and we got it."
The winner paid $6.80 after running 13/16 miles in 1 minute, 55.47 seconds on a fast track. He gave Baffert, 57, his fifth Preakness victory and his first since War Emblem in 2002.
Baffert didn't commit to the Preakness until Monday, when he also named Garcia to ride. "By Sunday, I told the owners we're going to run but I want to make a rider change," the Hall of Fame trainer said. "They understood that. It's tough because Garrett is a good friend. We just weren't having the luck."
Lookin At Lucky improved his record to 7-for-10, and in all three losses, bad posts and traffic problems compromised his chances.
"I'm so proud of Martin," Baffert said. "He was so cool and calm and he rode a great race. We've been clicking with him. He's a superstar. I think he's so young that he doesn't understand the magnitude of the race."
Garcia was asked when he thought he had the race won. He got some laughs when he said, "After I crossed the wire."