D.Wayne Lukas in the tunnel getting interviewed after winning the Preakness Stakes (Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire).
For most observers, it came as a big surprise that D. Wayne Lukas won the Preakness Stakes.
It shouldn’t have.
For if there’s something that should be expected from Lukas, it’s the unexpected.
Pardon the double-speak, but the point is that overlooking Lukas can come at a steep price, even if the Hall of Fame trainer is closer to 80 years of age than 70.
At the age of 77, Lukas may not have a small army of regally bred runners in his barn as he did 25 years ago, when he was shattering earnings records on a regular basis. But his methods remain as effective as ever.
What separates Lukas from most trainers – and makes him so dangerous even today – is that he is not afraid to lose. He will keep chasing the prize long after others would have raised a white flag.
Failure is surely inherent on many occasions in such a relentless pursuit, but victory can also come when it’s least expected – just as it did at Pimlico on the third Saturday in May.
“I’m paid to spoil dreams,” he said after his sixth Preakness victory.
LUKAS AFTER WINNING 2013 PREAKNESS
Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire
With the help of a billionaire owner in Brad Kelley, the new head of Calumet Farm, Lukas has a better array of racing talent now than he did a few years ago. Back then, in the not so distant past, he was such a non-entity in the sport that it seemed as if he was retired, even if he was still working as doggedly as ever.
Now, thanks to Oxbow, Lukas was able to celebrate his first Triple Crown victory in 13 years and he did it in a familiar manner for those who knew what to expect.
Many a trainer would have skipped the Preakness with a horse like Oxbow, who was sixth as a 24-1 longshot in the Kentucky Derby after chasing a brutal pace. But Lukas pressed on.
He also entered Will Take Charge, who was eighth in the Derby, and Titletown Five, who seemed a miler, at best, in the Preakness. He was wrong about those two, as they finished seventh and ninth, respectively, in a field of nine.
Yet the gamble he took with Oxbow was generously rewarded when jockey Gary Stevens put the Calumet 3-year-old on the lead at the start of the Preakness and never looked back.
Not surprisingly, Oxbow was sent off at 15-1 odds, and he served as yet another example of Lukas’ perseverance, which may be viewed as folly by some in the betting public.
In becoming Lukas’ record-breaking 14th Triple Crown race winner – and snapping the tie at 13 he enjoyed with the legendary James “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons - Oxbow fit into the mold of his trainer’s last few Triple Crown winners. Adding the Calumet colt to the mix, Lukas’ most recent winners in the three-race series have been sent off at 15-1, 18-1, 8-1 and 31-1 odds that might have prompted other trainers to keep their horses in their stalls. But Lukas was not swayed by the prospect of losing.
If those past Triple Crown races, which date back to 1999, were not enough of a reminder that odds alone are not the best indicator of Lukas’ chances, he did serve notice shortly before the Preakness that he might have a surprise or two up his sleeve.
In Pimlico’s Dixie Stakes, the race before the Preakness, the team of Calumet, Stevens and, yes, Lukas, teamed to win the $300,000 turf stakes with Skyring at 24-1 odds. The double linking the two stablemates returned $557.40 for a $2 wager.
That would have been an utterly surprising result, except that D. Wayne Lukas was in the middle of it. Knowing that, it made all the sense in the world.