Trainer Lukas an ageless wonder

Don Markus
Baltimore Sun

Baltimore — Ever since he came to Pimlico Race Course with Codex in 1980 for his first Preakness as a largely unknown trainer of thoroughbreds, D. Wayne Lukas has followed a similar routine here.

In the years when he gets to Baltimore early in the week, Lukas will sit at the end of the stakes barn and scout out the competition. Not only his fellow trainers, but the horses themselves.

It’s one of the many things Lukas loves about the second jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown, which he has won six times. Lukas and Bob Baffert will try to tie the record of seven, set by trainer R. Wyndham Walden from 1875 to 1888, at Saturday’s 143rd Preakness.

Taking advantage of being the first trainer to arrive at the historic track Monday, Lukas already had his chair situated near the stalls for his two entries, Sporting Chance and Bravazo, by early Tuesday morning.

“I can see what everybody else is doing,” Lukas said after his horses worked out. “That chair … is a big deal. Over the years I’ve sat in that chair in the corner there and (the horses) go by and I say, ‘You can draw a line through that one.’ Then you get some surprises.”

Lukas has had his own share of long-shot winners at the Preakness, most recently with Oxbow in 2013. Now 82 and looking more than a decade younger, Lukas said he doesn’t care much about tying the record for Preakness wins or adding to his own all-time record of 14 Triple Crown victories

“I think you can get caught up in that, maybe when you’re younger,” Lukas said. “When you’re a lot younger, you have a tendency to be more aware of that. That’s a way of keeping score, obviously. But as you get older, they kind of wear out a little bit. They don’t seem to be quite so significant.”

That’s not to say Lukas still doesn’t enjoy beating the competition, including former assistant Todd Pletcher and Baffert, who will go into Saturday’s race with Kentucky Derby winner and heavy favorite Justify.

Just like Lukas’ old friend, Bob Knight, who liked to beat his protege, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, as well as the legendary Dean Smith at North Carolina.

Former jockey Richard Migliore, who retired in 2010 at age 45 and is now a racing analyst, is awed by the level at which Lukas still competes.

“He is truly amazing in every way you can imagine,” Migliore said. “Just the fact that he’s still playing the game at the highest level, that he’s still enthusiastic in a game that can grind people down. You can see how much he loves it.”

Baffert echoes those thoughts, despite his own remarkable record, including being one Triple Crown win away from tying Lukas.

“His work ethic is just second to none,” Baffert said on the teleconference last week. “At his age, he’s positive … he thinks he’s going to win everything. I wish I had that kind of energy. He is still above me. In the quarter horses I couldn’t get to his level; I feel the same in the thoroughbred level.”


When: 6:45 Saturday

Where: Pimlico Race Course, Baltimore