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we love LOOKIN’ AT you LEE! The improbable story of “Lookin At Lee”, a horse with “steady durability”

“This is our girl! Remember Renee? And Star Chex?”, my Dad asked as he led me through a crowd of grown-ups. “Hold onto my hand, and we’ll get up where we can see which one is running”, he said, as he pushed his way through the crowd. We had arrived a bit late, and he was in a rush and dragging me along, “Hurry, I think this is one of our races!”

It was early summer of 1973. Secretariat was all the rage and horse racing was alive and well. I was a short, and very excited seven-year-old girl that afternoon. I struggled to see through all the people who were standing at the rail. They were nice, and I remember many moving to let the “little girl” up closer so she could see her horse run with her dad.

“Lookin At Lee”, a 16.2 hand 3 year old, is not known for speed; but instead for durability in both body and mind. He is the only horse that competed in all three legs of the Triple Crown Races in 2017.

We were at the Spokane Play Fair Race Course in Spokane, Washington, and my Dad had two of his prize mares running in the weekly races, considered to be “experience” races. I was enthralled with the atmosphere: the sound of people talking in excited tones; the smell of dirt and horses; the unseen man’s voice barking out numbers, names, and times over the intercom; the sound of the trumpet. And then, the bells!

The gates flew open and the line of beautiful horses was off! My eyes welled up and my heart felt like it was going to burst. I was so proud of those horses! All of them. And then, it was over. I had no idea which of our “girls” was in the race; no idea if she did well. I just wanted to see the next race! My Dad looked down at me and asked with a surprised look, “Are you crying?”

And yes, I was. Because, you see, there’s nothing like a good horse race. Watching those beautifully made, powerfully athletic horses doing what they love – RUN. When you actually own a horse in the race, it goes to another level of excitement! In our case, we had watched our “girls” grow from gangly, young colts into tall and straight fillies.

In the case of Lee Levinson, owner of “Lookin At Lee”, his love affair with horse racing transpired over some 50+ years, starting when he was a young, ten-year-old boy. It began with a small bet that his Dad made, from which he won $50. This small victory then sparked a dream and a desire in Levinson to be in the “big league”.

Tulsa, Oklahoma Attorney Lee Levinson in his Law office, surrounded by “Lookin At Lee” racing memorabilia.

Mr. Levinson, now a Tulsa, Oklahoma attorney, has dabbled in racing ever since. In fact, his ex-wife played a key role in building the Fair Meadows Track in Tulsa. “Before her, I never owned a pair of cowboy boots! But, I wear them now!”, he said laughingly during our June interview at his Tulsa, Oklahoma law office. And indeed, he was; one pant leg was haphazardly tucked into his right boot and he looked at home surrounded by his office décor, which included shadow boxes from the Kentucky Derby, the Belmont, and other racing memorabilia.

He went on to explain, “Over time, I realized that it was going to take serious money to play the game right. So, I formed L&N Racing and brought in my two sons (Andy and Michael) and an old friend Don Nelson.

Michael and I attended the 2015 Select Yearling sale at Keeneland in Kentucky, with the intent to purchase the best that we could; and we ended up getting the bargain of the sale!”

And Lee is certainly correct, taking into consideration that the going price for a yearling that day was $300,000. “Lookin At Lee” (named so by Lee’s son Michael), sired by “Lookin At Lucky” and bred by Ray Hanson (Kentucky), was a steal for a mere $70,000.

Lee Levinson formed L&N Racing and brought in his sons Andy (to his left) and Michael (to his right). Don Nelson is the fourth member (not pictured).

Other notables that sold in the same prestigious sale that day were “Always Dreaming” ($350,000) – who won this year’s Kentucky Derby; “Classic Empire” ($475,000) – who placed 4th; “Practical Joke” ($240,000) – who placed 5th; and “J Boys Echo ($485,000) – who finished a disappointing 15th in the 2017 Derby.

The members of L&N Racing, with Lee at the helm, set out to obtain the very best for their racing team, and they landed Hall of Fame Trainer Steve Asmussen.

Steve took the horse to his home ranch in Texas, where his father Keith broke the colt, and was quick in making the observation, “I think this horse can run.”

Hall of Fame trainer and Eclipse Award recipient Steve Asmussen

In a recent Blood Horse magazine article, Asmussen was quoted as saying, “He just eats, sleeps, trains, and runs….So many of us make or find excuses. But he uses none. I admire that quality in him.”

“Lookin At Lee”, a 16.2 hand 3 year old, is not known for speed; but instead for durability in both body and mind. He is the only horse that competed in all three legs of the Triple Crown Races in 2017.

Some of the predictions prior to the 2017 Kentucky Derby included:
“Distance should not be an issue… Hard to envision (Lookin At Lee) winning, but definitely one to use in the superfectas” – Daily Racing Form

The horse’s Derby odds were 33-1; and to stack more on top of tough odds, the horse drew the #1 post. It had been 29 long years since a horse had placed from this post. The jockey, Corie Lanerie, who came to the table with 11 riding titles at Churchill Downs and a lifetime earnings of $1,165,388 – mounted “Lookin At Lee” for the first time in the 2017 Kentucky Derby!

Jockey Corie Lanerie rode “Lookin at Lee” in the 2017 Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.

There was more attitude than prediction coming from L&N Racing prior to the big race:
When asked how he felt about competing in THE Kentucky Derby, Mr. Levinson firmly stated, “Yeah, I’ll soak it in. But we really do want to win.”
Not only did “Lookin At Lee” beat the odds at the Derby; but he also went on to be the only horse this year to compete in all three Triple Crown races! Here is his 2017 Triple Crown journey in a nutshell:

May 6 – Kentucky Derby – 1 ¼ miles – finished in 2nd place: (33-1 odds) Out of 400 horses, only 20 made it into the Derby; and he finished 2nd to “Always Dreaming”, after a bumpy start from the #1 post. He was in 16th place at the ½ mile mark and on the far turn cut the corner and made his move; finishing just 2 ½ lengths behind “Always Dreaming”, and a whopping 5 lengths ahead of the 3rd place horse, “Battle of Midway”. “Giddy up indeed. He would have won the dang race had it gone another quarter mile.” – Guerin Emig, Sports Columnist.

May 20 – Preakness – 1 3/16 miles – finished in 4th place: (10-1 odds) According to an AP article published by USA Today on May 18 – “Charging hard down the stretch, “Lookin At Lee” barely missed winning the Kentucky Derby as a 33-1 long shot. His 2nd place finish seemingly impressed no one.” He came to the Preakness course with jockey Corie Lanerie, classified as the “underdog”. He was in last place as they headed into the back stretch. At the far turn, he started to make his move around the outside, passing the cluster, still making a huge move and coming on stronger as he crossed the finish line in 4th place, leaving Kentucky Derby winner “Always Dreaming” behind him in 8th place.

Andy and Michael Levinson, of L&N Racing, at the 2017 Preakness.

June 10 – The Belmont – 1 ½ miles – finished in 7th place: (8-1 odds) According to Blood Horse magazine, going into The Belmont, “He’s only finished worse than 4th once and earned 5 graded stakes places, including 3 Grade 1 placings and a Classic placing. In 11 starts, he has $942,795.” He came to the course with jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr on board. When I asked Steve Asmussen why he decided to change jockeys for that race, he answered, “Irad won that race in 2016 on “Creator””. He knew that Ortiz had the experience on the course to bring the best out of “Lookin At Lee”.

It’s obvious that Mr. Asmussen enjoys working with “Lookin At Lee”. “He doesn’t blink; he doesn’t waiver”…”He’s kept elite company since the fall of last year”, he said admiringly.

He went on to say that this horse is special in a lot of ways – but one of the most impressive is that no matter what happens on a course, no matter the pressure or bad experience like getting bumped or pushed around, this horse comes back to the same course the next day with an open mind and good disposition. He never gives anything less than his very best.

Keep your eyes on “Lookin At Lee”. He’s been invited – meaning no entry fees – to the Haskell Invitational, a Grade 1 race in Ocean Port, New Jersey on July 30; as well as the West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Park in Chester, West Virginia on Saturday, August 5.

If you want to witness guts, try, and see a horse only get stronger at the end of the race – watch this horse!

And – we just love LOOKIN AT you LEE!

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