BALTIMORE - Five years ago, Martin Garcia, recently arrived from his native Mexico, was working in a deli in Northern California near Pleasanton racetrack when a patron walked in and asked him, based on his size, if he had ever thought of being a jockey.
Thus began the most unlikely of ascensions. Like a budding actor discovered by an agent while sitting at a bus stop, Garcia, 25, has become a riding star. His profile has risen under the direction of trainer Bob Baffert, who in recent months has entrusted him with his best mounts. On Saturday, that partnership scored its biggest victory yet, when Lookin At Lucky, the beaten favorite two weeks earlier in the Kentucky Derby, captured the 135th running of the Preakness Stakes on a gorgeous, spring day at Pimlico Race Course.
For Baffert, it was his fifth victory in the Preakness. For Garcia, who only rode in his first Triple Crown race two weeks ago aboard Conveyance in the Derby, it was his first Triple Crown race win.
"We've been clicking," said Baffert, whose biggest previous victory with Garcia came with Misremembered in the Santa Anita Handicap in March. "I've just been winning with him. He can finish. He's so young, I don't think he realized the magnitude of the race."
Lookin At Lucky needed the length of the stretch to get past a tenacious First Dude, a 23-1 shot who put away the Derby winner, Super Saver, at the head of the lane and fought on bravely once hooked by Lookin At Lucky. At the wire, Lookin At Lucky was best by three-quarters of a length, with Jackson Bend knifing between horses to finish third, just a head behind First Dude.
Super Saver, the 9-5 favorite, faded to finish eighth. Neither Lookin At Lucky nor Super Saver is expected to run in the final leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes, on June 5, meaning a different horse will win all three legs of this year's Triple Crown. No one has swept the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978. That is the longest drought between Triple Crown winners since the first horse to sweep all three races, Sir Barton, in 1919.
Lookin At Lucky had been ridden in his nine previous starts by Garrett Gomez. But Gomez was replaced on Lookin At Lucky after a rough trip in the Derby, in which they finished sixth. The Derby followed a tough trip in the Santa Anita Derby, in which they finished third.
Gomez rode Dublin in the Preakness, and they finished fifth after a poor start.
Garcia gave Lookin At Lucky a perfect trip. They were in a bit of traffic coming through the lane the first time, but they were able to save ground around the first turn before moving outside horses for a clear run down the backstretch. According to Garcia, Baffert "told me to just break good, save ground on the first turn."
First Dude, with Super Saver pressing him, had led through fractions of 22.91 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, 46.47 for a half-mile, and 1:11.22 for the first six furlongs. As the field neared the far turn, Lookin At Lucky moved four paths wide, just outside Caracortado, to vie for the lead.
Lookin At Lucky surged to the front coming off the bend, but First Dude fought back, and those two had a spirited battle through the lane.
"Today was about redemption, and we got it," said Mike Pegram, who owns Lookin At Lucky along with Karl Watson and Paul Weitman.
Derby winner Orb was unable to find his rhythm after breaking from the rail, and never challenged in finishing fourth as Oxbow ran away with the Preakness Stakes.
Baffert credits Garcia, Lookin At Lucky
May 15, 2010: Bob Baffert, Lookin At Lucky's trainer, talks immediately following an amazing Preakness Stakes.
Triple Crown winners
The horses that have won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont in the same year.
Derby Day finery
Fashion statements fill Churchill Downs as race fans display their hats.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
Wild party at the Preakness
Images of fans and the scene during the Preakness over the years.