NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Cowboy boots, blue jeans, starched sports shirt, gleaming smile and shades.
Yes, trainer D. Wayne Lukas is back in the spotlight during the Triple Crown. And don’t think he isn’t enjoying every second of it.
“More than I ever did,” the 77-year-old Hall of Famer said. “I still love it and still love working with these horses.”
Less than three weeks ago, Oxbow won the Preakness and gave Lukas that elusive, record-setting 14th victory in a Triple Crown race. The victory over Kentucky Derby winner Orb came 13 years after No. 13 — Commendable’s triumph in the 2000 Belmont Stakes.
“I’m paid to spoil dreams,” Lukas said.
Oh sure, Lukas has been back to Belmont since, but not as the powerful player he once was. On Saturday, Lukas will have two chances to win his fifth Belmont when he sends out Oxbow and Will Take Charge in a field of 14.
Oxbow is the third choice at 5-1 behind the 3-1 favorite Orb, trained by Shug McGaughey. Revolutionary is the 9-2 second choice. Will Take Charge, who was eighth in the Derby and seventh in the Preakness, is 20-1.
“I think Shug has established his horse as the favorite today, and that’s right,” Lukas said. “But I think he knows he has to take care of business in getting us out of the way, too.”
Make no mistake. Lukas may be getting on in years, but he hasn’t lost his competitive edge. On Wednesday, the former assistant basketball coach at Wisconsin was laying out the reasons why Will Take Charge could make a run at winning the Belmont.
“I’m really content where I’m at now,” he said. ‘I don’t have to get up every and prove I can train racehorses. I can go over there and get my butt kicked on Saturday, and I’ll be perfectly content, or I can win and be perfectly content. Whatever legacy we’ve developed so be it.”
He has created quite a legacy: More earnings than any other trainer ($263,299,357 and counting); four Kentucky Derbies, six wins in the Preakness and four in the Belmont; 19 Breeders’ Cup wins; three Horse of the Years (Charismatic, Criminal Type, Lady’s Secret); and four Eclipse Awards as the nation’s top trainer.
“It’s a lifestyle for me. I don’t know any other way to do it,” said Lukas. “My son told me, ‘You’ll be out there on your pony some morning, you’ll fall off dead, they’ll just harrow you under the track, and everything will go on as usual.’ ”
Lukas’ operation has scaled down dramatically since his days of overseeing hundreds of horses at his spotless barns in Arkansas, California, Florida, Kentucky, New York and elsewhere. Quite a few of the top trainers today are graduates of “Lukas University,” having worked under him before setting out on their own.
Among them are Todd Pletcher ($20 million shy of catching Lukas for total earnings), Dallas Stewart and Kiaran McLaughlin, all of whom will be out to beat Lukas on Saturday. Pletcher has a record-setting five entries — Revolutionary, Palace Malice and three owned by Mike Repole — Unlimited Budget, Overanalyze and Midnight Taboo. Stewart sends out Derby runner-up Golden Soul and McLaughin has 20-1 long-shot Incognito.
“Dallas and I worked for Wayne for quite awhile together, and there’s a certain camaraderie between the group of us that worked for Wayne,” said Pletcher. “Dallas, me, Randy Bradshaw, Kiaran McLaughlin, Mark Hennig. We became lifelong friends because of that experience with Wayne.”
Repole would like nothing more than to win the Belmont. He’s been going to Aqueduct and Belmont since he was a teenager, and says “most owners have Derby fever, I have Belmont Stakes fever.”
He admires was Lukas has accomplished.
“As a kid, I used to watch Wayne Lukas’ horses winning all those big races,” said Repole. “And to see him back winning the Preakness and on the Derby trail and back at Belmont with a horse that’s one of the favorites is great. He’s still doing it at 77 and loving it.”
By the way Wayne, how can Will Take Charge win?
“He’s 17 hands high,” Lukas began, “he doesn’t start and stop, he’s not nifty, but when he gets that head of steam up and gets rolling, and in this particular race with the configuration of the race track and distance, I think he’s a factor. I’d put him in my superfecta, at least.”
The field for the 1½-mile Belmont is the largest since 1996, when Lukas won the race with Editor’s Note.
Orb, under Joel Rosario, navigated his way past 16 rivals in the final half mile of the Derby to win by 2½ lengths. In the Preakness, Orb was unable to find running room outside after breaking from the rail, and Oxbow led wire-to-wire under Gary Stevens.
Orb comes into the race with five wins in nine starts for owners Ogden Mills “Dinny” Phipps and Stuart Janney III, while Oxbow’s Preakness win was just his third win in 11 starts for Calumet Farm.
Pletcher is looking for his second Belmont win. He won it in 2007 with Rags to Riches, and Unlimited Budget could make him 2-for-2 with his Belmont fillies if Rosie Napravnik can pull off the upset and become the second female rider to win a Triple Crown race (Julie Krone won the 1993 Belmont with Colonial Affair).
“She’s a big, strong, talented filly. From a physical standpoint, she is going to match up well,” Pletcher said. “My biggest concern is the mile-and-a-half, with her not as strongly bred as Rags to Riches. But she’s trained very well.”
The last Derby-Belmont winner was Thunder Gulch in 1995, and the last Preakness-Belmont winner was Afleet Alex in 2005. The last rematch of the Derby and Preakness winners was in 2011, when Preakness winner Shackleford ran fifth and Derby winner Animal Kingdom sixth behind Ruler On Ice.
The field from the rail out: Frac Daddy (Alan Garcia, 30-1), Freedom Child (Luis Saez, 8-1), Overanalyze (John Velazquez, 12-1), Giant Finish (Edgar Prado, 30-1), Orb (Joel Rosario, 3-1), Incognito (Irad Ortiz, Jr., 20-1), Oxbow (Gary Stevens, 5-1), Midnight Taboo (Garrett Gomez, 30-1), Revolutionary (Javier Castellano, 9-2), Will Take Charge (Jon Court, 20-1), Vyjack (Julien Leparoux, 20-1), Palace Malice (Mike Smith, 15-1), Unlimited Budget (Rosie Napravnik, 8-1), and Golden Soul (Robby Albarado, 10-1).
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