Baffert takes Derby favoritism by default

Baffert takes Derby favoritism by default

Published Apr. 26, 2010 10:59 p.m. ET

Suddenly, Lookin At Lucky and his trainer Bob Baffert have vaulted to the top of the Kentucky Derby marquee.

The dramatic withdrawal of hot favorite Eskendereya from the lineup due to a leg injury has turned the second fiddle Baffert camp into the ones to beat.

Everything changed in a heartbeat Sunday. When Baffert heard the news of Eskendereya he was dismayed.

"It's horrible," he said. "When you have a horse like that, a freak of nature, it's just terrible, horrible. You don't want to hear that news."

Trainer Nick Zito was equally crestfallen.

"That's why I always say I am lucky and blessed," he said. "Get down on your hands and knees. I've said it once and I'll say it again -- we are all equal because we're all vulnerable. This game will humble kings."

An hour earlier, Baffert had explained why Eskendereya towered over the Derby field, comparing him to the all-conquering Big Brown of 2008. He called him a standout, the horse of the season.

"When he won the Wood Memorial, I thought, 'Jeez...who is going to beat him?'" Baffert said.

Zito was just as emphatic.

"You can't get away from how good Eskendereya is," he said. "My horse, Jackson Bend, finished second to him in the Fountain of Youth and the Wood Memorial. I thought we would get a little closer to him, maybe four or five lengths, but he just blew us away. He is an exceptional horse."

Baffert, whose barn is next to Eskendereya trainer Todd Pletcher's, was watching all morning for the favorite to show. Trainers watch other trainer's horses like eagles.