These are heady days for Martin Garcia, the 25-year-old jockey named to ride champion Lookin at Lucky in the Preakness Stakes Saturday at Pimlico for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.
“It’s a great opportunity for him to have a live horse in a Triple Crown race,” said agent Jim Pegram Thursday at Hollywood Park of the Mexican native’s first Preakness mount. “He flies out tomorrow morning.”
Garcia will ride Lookin at Lucky for the first time, replacing Garrett Gomez. He was established as the 3-1 second choice in the morning line after drawing post seven in a field of 12 alongside Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, the 5-to-2 favorite.
Garcia will return here Sunday for the mount on Wynning Ride for Baffert in the $150,000 Grade II Milady Handicap for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on Cushion Track. The 4-year-old filly, runner-up in the 2008 Hollywood Starlet, comes off a sharp allowance score at Santa Anita on April 16 under Garcia.
Pegram, brother of Lookin at Lucky co-owner Mike Pegram, ironically handled Gomez’s book here several years ago before the rider decided to move east during the summer and hired agent Ron Anderson. Pegram picked up the book of Jose Valdivia, Jr., who moved to Delaware Park last month, opening the way for Pegram to work with Garcia at the start of this meet.
“I’m tickled to death to be working for him,” said Pegram. “He’s a great kid. There’s a lot of upside to him.”
Garcia continued his hot year for Baffert Wednesday, guiding Subsidized to victory in a maiden race here for owners Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman, the same trio that owns Lookin at Lucky.
“Bob’s got a lot of confidence in him,” said agent Pegram.
Another notable jockey story in the Preakness involves Paul Atkinson, a 40-year-old journeyman who will make his Triple Crown debut aboard Caracortado for trainer Mike Machowsky, another Triple Crown newcomer.
Atkinson, an Idaho native, turns 41 five days after the Preakness.
A third jockey from the local colony with considerably more Triple Crown experience will also ride in the Preakness. Hall of Famer Mike Smith, who won the 1993 Preakness on Prairie Bayou, seeks his second win in the race aboard Jackson Bend, a 12-t shot from post six, for trainer Nick Zito.
The Preakness will be simulcast here between races during a program that begins with an 11 a.m. first post.
ALPHIE’S BET READY TO TEST ELDERS IN JIM MURRAY
Trainer Alexis Barba, seeking to make history with Alphie’s Bet in the $150,000 Jim Murray Memorial Handicap Saturday, watched the 3-year-old colt exercise on the turf here Thursday morning.
Alphie’s Bet seeks to become the first 3-year-old to win the Grade II test at 1 ½ miles on turf in its 20-year history. He breaks from post four in a field of 10 under jockey Silvio Amador.
“I keep second-guessing myself, but there are not a lot of other spots right now,” said Barba as Alphie’s Bet moved easily around the turf course under exercise rider Dominic Prunat.
“He broke his maiden at a mile on turf at Santa Anita, and rather impressively,” explained Barba. “That’s a main reason why I am doing this.”
Alphie’s Bet went at about a two-minute lick, not fast enough for a recorded work. “It was nothing heavy-duty,” said Barba. “I just let him pick it up a little down the stretch.”
Alphie’s Bet, a California-bred by Tribal Rule out of the Candi’s Gold mare Miss Alphie, has won three of seven starts and earned $261,320 for owners Teresa McWilliams and Peter Johnson. He won the Grade III Sham Stakes at Santa Anita and the Snow Chief Stakes here on synthetic surfaces.
“He’s just not a sprinter,” said Barba, glancing at a nomination sheet for the seven-furlong Laz Barrera Stakes for 3-years-olds here May 22 for which she also nominated him as an afterthought. “He has that big long stride. I guess we’ll find out whether he belongs on Saturday.”
Barba, who also trains 3-year-old stakes winner Make Music for Me, was excited about the colt’s fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby after rallying from last in a field of 20.
“He ran the farthest of anybody,” said Barba. “He was about eight-wide at the top of the stretch.”
Barba said the colt would return in the Belmont Stakes June 5 in New York. “I’ve got him at Keeneland,” said Barba. “He leaves for New York on the 17th (Monday).” Joel Rosario has the call back.
FINISH LINES—Trainer Ral Ayers worked stakes winners Battle of Hastings and Sweeter Still four furlongs each on turf. “Sweeter Still might run in the Redondo Beach Stakes (for fillies and mares at one mile on turf June 5),” said Ayers. “We have a lot of options to consider with Battle of Hastings.”…Jockey Tyler Baze will also fly to Baltimore after today’s races—to ride Harissa for trainer Dave Hofmans in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes for 3-year-old fillies Friday…Rafael Bejarano, coming off a five-win day Wednesday, has taken a call on Skipshot in the $100,000 Grade III Laz Barrera Memorial Stakes for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs here May 22….las Cienegas Handicap winner Unzip Me and the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained duo of U R All That I Am and You Lift Me Up head a list of nine California-bred fillies and mares nominated to the $60,000-added Fran’s Valentine Stakes at one mile on turf May 23…“Lava Man is officially a pony, and he’s happy with his new job here,” said trainer Doug O’Neill of the new role for the retired 9-year-old gelding, three-time winner of the Hollywood Gold Cup from 2005-2007…G Ten and Tiz Giani, a pair of 2-year-old colts from the first crop of Giacomo, have joined the barn of John Shirreffs, who won the 2005 Kentucky Derby with the sire…Christian Santiago Reyes, Eclipse Award-winning apprentice jockey last year, rides with the “bug” (five-pound weight allowance) for the final day Sunday before becoming a journeyman next week.
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