BALTIMORE - Lookin At Lucky was led from Pimlico's stakes barn at 7:05 Sunday morning toward a van bound for Baltimore-Washington International Airport. The Preakness winner was returning to trainer Bob Baffert's Southern California base, and he won't be back east anytime soon.
"He will not run in the Belmont," Baffert said. "He's been through a lot, and I don't want to run him a mile and a half. I want to save something for the fall. I ran him a lot as a 2-year-old, and I want to keep this horse around."
For the fifth time in the past six years, no Triple Crown will be on the line, which is more bad news for the financially embattled New York Racing Association. Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver ensured that Saturday when he backpedaled to eighth in the stretch. Trainer Todd Pletcher said Super Saver won't be running June 5 at Belmont Park, either. Pletcher said he had no plans for Super Saver except that he would be "freshened up."
Charles Hayward, NYRA's president and CEO, wanted Super Saver to win the Preakness, which would have ensured a huge crowd for the Belmont. For the 32nd consecutive year, there will be no sweep, and with the Derby and Preakness winners absent, there's not even a rivalry to sell.
"Without a Triple Crown contender, it's a completely different race," Hayward said. Yet he admitted that even if Super Saver had won at Pimlico, it would not have helped NYRA that much.
"A Belmont Triple Crown contender is usually worth about $3 million to us," he said. "But in terms of solving the long-term financial problems of NYRA, that wouldn't come close. We need financial relief from the state or we're not going to be able to run [the entire] Belmont meet."
Last week, Baffert said he would not send Lookin At Lucky to the Belmont, but after he beat First Dude by three-quarters of a length, he said he'd reconsider. As expected, he chose to skip it, so First Dude is the only Preakness runner going.
" 'Lucky' looks good today, he's happy," Baffert said. "But he's run hard and I don't want to knock him out. The mare's side of his pedigree is all speed, and he's a light horse. I just think the Belmont might be too far for him. But I know one race he'll be at: the Haskell [Aug. 1 at Monmouth]."
Baffert said he might run the gelding Game On Dude, in whom Dodgers manager Joe Torre has a minority interest. "My intention is if he's doing well, he'll go in the Belmont," Baffert said. "It could be First Dude versus the Dude."
NYRA listed nine other horses as Belmont possibilities - Derby runner-up Ice Box, Fly Down, Drosselmeyer, Make Music for Me, New Madrid, Setsuko, Stately Victor, Stay Put and Uptowncharlybrown. None is a drawing card, and this year, "The Test of the Champion" won't have one.
Elliott Walden trained Victory Gallop, who denied Baffert's Real Quiet the Triple Crown by a nose in the 1998 Belmont. Now Walden is vice president and racing manager at WinStar Farm, Super Saver's owner and breeder.
"The Belmont is not going to be what it could have been, but that's how horse racing goes sometimes," Walden said. "It won't have that big-game feel, but I hope people will come out and support it."