LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Bob Baffert has suddenly gone from having a solid contender to having the solid favorite for the Kentucky Derby.
Last year's 2-year-old champion, Lookin At Lucky, assumed the role after Eskendereya was forced out of the field by a leg injury.
"There's no telling how good that horse was. (Trainer) Todd Pletcher has never brought a horse to the Derby like that," Baffert said on a cloudy and cold Monday at Churchill Downs. "The Derby dream just gets totally lost like that. It's horrible."
Baffert knows the feeling.
In 1998, Event of the Year was to be the Derby favorite but broke a leg the week before the race. Baffert's horse, Indian Charlie, went off as the favorite. His other entry, Real Quiet, won, giving the trainer his second straight Derby victory.
Mike Pegram owned Real Quiet, who won the Preakness, putting him and longtime friend Baffert on the brink of the Triple Crown. The colt was beaten by a nose in the Belmont.
Now, Baffert and Pegram, who co-owns Lookin At Lucky, have a shot at making the head-spinning trip to the winner's circle together again.
"You appreciate it more as you get older. You understand what the Derby really means," Pegram said. "You know how fortunate and lucky you are to make the race and to have a chance to win it."
Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia calls Lookin At Lucky the "solid favorite" for Saturday's 1¼-mile race.
FIELD SHRINKS: Pletcher, who once had as many as seven contenders for the Kentucky Derby, saw his brigade shrink to five when Rule was withdrawn. Sunday, Pletcher withdrew Eskendereya because of swelling in his left front leg. Pletcher still didn't know the full nature of the injury.
HALL OF FAME: Former horse of the year Point Given joined jockeys Randy Romero and Alex Solis among the 10 finalists nominated for election to the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. The other nominees are Azeri, Best Pal, Open Mind, Safely Kept and Sky Beauty, and trainers Gary Jones and Robert Wheeler. Results will be announced May 28.