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Lukas won't apologize for winning ways

D. Wayne Lukas
D. Wayne Lukas has trained four Kentucky Derby winners.
After Charismatic gave him his fourth Kentucky Derby victory last year, trainer D. Wayne Lukas wondered who held the record, and how many Derby wins that trainer had. When told it was the late Ben Jones, with six, Lukas replied, "Well, I hope my health holds up."

Lukas is one of the most driven men in the world, and at 64 he's still seeking challenges. He hasn't taken a vacation in 15 years and gets by on as little sleep as possible, taking 10-minute cat naps to stay fresh. The former Wisconsin farmboy is the ultimate 24-7 guy, living proof that hard work might kill the competition but not you.

He's an entry in Who's Who, and his achievements are staggering: 12 wins in the Triple Crown; 15 in the Breeders' Cup; four Eclipse Awards for training; career record for purse earnings; 14 national earnings titles; 20 Eclipse Award champions; more than 900 stakes wins.

His operation is committed to winning major races for elite clients on days when the world is watching, and no one in history has done that better than Lukas. Following a successful career with quarter horses, Lukas revolutionized the thoroughbred game after taking it up full time at the relatively advanced age of 42.

Mark Hennig is one of many Lukas assistants who became successful trainers on their own.

"So many things have changed in our industry because of Wayne Lukas," Hennig said last Aug. 9, the day Lukas was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. "So many trainers never ran multiple divisions, and he's shown us the reality that any race is just one flight away."

  • D. Wayne Lukas has saddled more horses (35) in the Kentucky Derby than any other trainer. He's won four times and been in the money eight times.
  • Year Entry Finish
    1999 Charismatic 1st
      Cat Thief 3rd
    1998 Cape Town 5th
    1997 Deeds Not Words 13th
    1996 Grindstone 1st
      Prince of Thieves 3rd
      Editor's Note 6th
      Victory Speech 10th
      Honour and Glory 19th
    1995 Thunder Gulch 1st
      Timber Country 3rd
      Serena's Song 16th
    1994 Tabasco Cat 6th
    1993 Union City 15th
    1992 Dance Floor 3rd
      Al Sabin 6th
    1991 Corporate Report 9th
    1990 Land Rush 7th
      Power Lunch 10th
      Real Cash 11th
    1989 Houston 8th
      Shy Tom 10th
    1988 Winning Colors 1st
    1987 On the Line 10th
      War 13th
      Demons Begone dnf
    1986 Badger Land 5th
    1984 Life's Magic 8th
      Althea 19th
    1983 Marfa 5th
      Balboa Native 9th
      Total Departure 20th
    1982 Muttering 5th
    1981 Partez 3rd

    Todd Pletcher spent 6½ years under Lukas before assembling his own stable late in 1995.

    "Racing as a rule is very tradition-minded and slow to accept change," Pletcher said. "Wayne has a flair for the way he does things. He thinks creatively.

    "The thing about Wayne's organization is that it's just that -- an organization. Most trainers have 25 or 30 horses at one track. Wayne has 30 or more horses at three or four tracks. When you're operating at that level, you have to keep more in your head. But Wayne's system is in place at every track. Since each of his barns looks the same and is run the same way, it's a lot easier to move horses around the country and be successful."

    Besides receiving extravagant praise, Lukas has been vilified by critics who say he cares more about the bottom line than about his animals. He has fired back at the media, even though it always gets the last word. At one Triple Crown race, Bob Knight, the controversial Indiana basketball coach, hung around Lukas' barn as an unofficial press liaison. Lukas' line: "I'll take care of the horses, and he'll take care of the horse's asses."

    Lukas has been ripped, often justifiably, for continuing to run horses that obviously have gone off form. In 1993, he ran Union City in the Preakness after the colt finished 15th in the Derby. Union City broke down at Pimlico and had to be destroyed. Three years ago, Lukas entered the overmatched Deeds Not Words in the Derby and was ridiculed after the colt ran last. Through it all, Lukas has taken the hits and kept coming.

    "It hasn't always been blue skies and clear sailing in my career. I've been solidly criticized by certain people in the industry and the media who don't always agree with what we do," Lukas said in his Hall of Fame acceptance speech. "But I make no apologies for what we've tried to do.

    "It's my nature to push the envelope every time. If you want a coach who wants to walk the ball up the court, you'd better get another guy, because we're going to run and press all the time."

    Lukas is back in the 3-year-old tournament for a record 20th consecutive year, and his colt High Yield gives him a legitimate chance at his fifth Derby win.

    The handsome chestnut has been out of the money only once in 12 starts and has thrived under Lukas' demanding program. He leads Derby contenders in career earnings (more than $1.1 million), won two of the most prestigious Triple Crown preps, the Fountain of Youth and the Blue Grass Stakes, and missed a third, the Florida Derby, by only a head. He's been training impressively at Churchill Downs since mid-March and he'll probably go off at 6-1 or so. He has fine tactical speed and a strong distance pedigree. He's underrated and live.

    After High Yield held off Pletcher's More Than Ready by a head April 15 in the Blue Grass at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., Lukas said, "I can smell the roses from here. We're going to go (to Churchill Downs) with great optimism."

    Nothing that High Yield has done there since has made Lukas think otherwise. On April 24, he worked a half-mile in 46 3/5 seconds, easily the fastest of 46 at the distance that day.

    "I was a little bit concerned about the Blue Grass because it was a tough race," Lukas said. "I wanted a tough race, but you don't want one that's going to knock him out. But we're very pleased with what we see. He's done everything very well since."

    On Sunday, he pleased Lukas with another strong workout: six furlongs in 1:13 3/5. "High Yield has been very durable, very tough," Lukas said. "Whether he is good enough to win the Kentucky Derby, nobody knows, but I wouldn't change anything. And I wouldn't want to." Help | Advertiser Info | Contact Us | Tools | Site Map | Jobs at
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