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Baffert gets his preak on!
Baffert Gets His Preak On! - Last Minute Jockey Change Gets Lucky
Article & Photos by Laurie Virkstis

On a gorgeous Saturday in mid-May at "Old Hilltop" better known as Pimlico in Baltimore, Maryland nearly 96,000 race fans converge to see the 135th Preakness Stakes known as the "Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown," or the "Run for the the Black-Eyed Susans."

Among the ladies in their finest millinery sipping "Black-eyed Susans" and cigar smoking gents, there are Exactas, Trifectas, and Superfectas to keep us sharp on our wagering skills. Some wagering folks forgo the racing stats and just let the restaurant waiters pick their horses for them, perhaps having just as much luck picking their own winners. Minutes before post time the wagering stats change continuously. Since the 1st weekend in May, the national favorite was Calvin Borel on Supersaver. Borel was going for a 2nd Triple Crown leg win after his spot-on effort in the Kentucky Derby, and a chance to become racing's 12th Triple Crown champion. We are ever hopeful for the next Triple Crown winner; a title that has eluded race competitors since Affirmed in 1978.

On this May 15, 2010 two clear favorites emerge, Borel on Winstar's "Supersaver" and Martin Garcia on "Lookin At Lucky." Apparently, the crowd approved of a bold move by Trainer Bob Baffert to change jockeys on Lucky just a week before the important stakes race.

Baffert told former jockey, Garrett Gomez, that he would replace him with Martin Garcia for the 135th Preakness race. Gomez had a bad ride on Lookin At Lucky in the Derby where the colt was bounced around to 6th place. Garcia, the jockey who loved and wamed up the colt in the mornings would now replace afternoon jockey, Gomez.

Martin Garcia, a 25 year old California Deli worker turned jockey, was so excited about the change in jockeys; he stayed up all night excited by what a Preakness win could mean for him. Garcia grew up around horses, but has only been riding five years and in the US for less than seven. It was his former boss Deli owner, Terri Terry, who took Martin to see her horses and he was a natural, hopping up without a saddle. Terry introduced Garcia to friend and race trainer, Mark Hanna, and the rest is as they say "history."

Garcia, listened to Baffert's expert advice telling the young jockey he can't be more than 3 paths off the rail with Lucky and followed it. Bob Baffert beamed with delight with his 5th Preakness win and Garcia's performance "He rode a perfect race. He's a superstar." Baffert's last Preakness win was eight years ago in 2002. Crowd favorite Calvin Borel placed 8th on Supersaver, saying he came up empty on the Derby winner.

Many say they would like to see all the young horses compete in all three famous legs of the Triple Crown - the Kentucky Derby, the Baltimore Preakness, and in the longest race Belmont Park in New York. There are discussions about changing the race dates so the young horses can compete equally and have more time off for recovery. Race veteran, Nick Zito, opposes the change and thinks racing just needs to wait for it's next Secretariat. The proposed dates are the Kentucky Derby on the 1st Saturday in May, the Preakness on Memorial Weekend, and finally the Belmont on July 4th weekend.

To see more Preakness highlights visit Laurie's website.

Horse Gazette photographer, Laurie Virkstis, at the Preakness Barn with
NBC Sportcaster Tom Hammond (Left), and Five Time Winning Trainer, Bob Baffert (Right).