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Last year’s champion juvenile colt and the unluckiest member of his generation this year, Lookin at Lucky is a good-looking son of leading sire Smart Strike who has overcome a lot to reach his position near the top of the classic tree.

The colt didn’t start there. Instead, the nice colt was dinged at the yearling sales because he was radiographically imperfect. Breeders Lance Robinson and Jerry Bailey preferred to keep the colt, rather than accept the hammer price of $35,000 for him, and what a stroke of luck that proved. The following April, Bailey and partner sold Lookin at Lucky for $475,000 to Bob Baffert, acting for the colt’s present owners. They are also lucky men, because they got a really good colt.

In a discussion of the factors that kept Lookin at Lucky from being a premium sales yearling, Bailey said that “some of the issues that were a factor [in the colt not selling] were radiographic.”

He also said that “as the Smart Strikes mature, they become a little more attractive. He was criticized a little for his pasterns, which were a tad long and a tad soft.”

Those weren’t the primary reasons that most buyers walked away, however. Bailey said, “Radiographically, he had some mild sesamoiditis, some mid-sagittal ridge lesions, as well as old stifle OCDs that we had operated on. As a result, he had a divot on the lateral trochlear ridge of the stifle from the earlier operation that was nice and clean, but with those things, there just wasn’t anybody there to buy him at the yearling sale.”

Retaining a good horse and taking him to the next step isn’t something new for Bailey. He even had to resort to Plan C with Thunder Gulch when that good young horse did not sell as a 2-year-old in training. Put to racing and sold for very good money late in his 2-year-old season, Thunder Gulch won the Kentucky Derby and the 3-year-old championship for owner Michael Tabor.

With Lookin at Lucky, “we broke and trained him,” Bailey said. “He was always sound, always trained well, and was delightful at the 2-year-old sales in the way that he trained and worked. He went in :10 flat, and the way he did it was just awesome. When I was watching him at the Keeneland April sale, I was afraid to look at the clock, afraid he went in :11, because it looked that easy.”

The colt’s time and his easy way of going brought buyers to look and inspect and check the x-rays in the repository because the yet-unnamed Lookin at Lucky was obviously a colt with a future.

Bailey said, “Even though we had trained him right along, the colt still had some radiographic findings at the 2-year-old sale that turned some people away from him. But the people who knew what a horse was supposed to look like were pretty high on him,” pushing the colt’s 2-year-old sale price to $475,000 with Jess Jackson’s representative John Moynihan reportedly the underbidder.

By the time the colt was in serious training, Bailey said that “what sold him was the way he moved on the racetrack. Baffert will overlook radiographic findings that other trainers won’t, and I think that’s one reason he’s had so much success with 2-year-olds. Most horses in a juvenile sale have something to talk about, and if a buyer waits only for those that don’t, they miss out on a lot of good horses.”

Trainer Bob Baffert was the lucky buyer of Lookin at Lucky for owner Mike Pegram and partners. Pegram also came out on the right end of the deal when Baffert purchased a Quiet American colt as a yearling who had some vet questions. The trainer bought the rangy bay colt because he looked like a beautifully shaped classic prospect, and Real Quiet won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness two years later.

From the results of training and racing Lookin at Lucky, radiographic issues do not mean that a young horse will not have a future as a racehorse. To the contrary, all the research indicates that most, perhaps all, horses have some level of radiographic issue at some point in their development.

How we as breeders, owners, and trainers respond to the changes during those developmental stages makes a lot of difference in the outcome.

Bailey said, “I think that it’s important where the OCD in a stifle is located and what it looks like. If they are smooth and well rounded off when the horse is at the yearling sales, people are starting to recognize that a very high percentage of those never give any problem at all.”