LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Tradition abounds at the Kentucky Derby,
yet the 132nd race will go on without some familiar faces Saturday.
Fans searching their programs for Derby horses trained by D.
Wayne Lukas, Bobby Frankel and Nick Zito or ridden by Jerry Bailey,
Pat Day and Gary Stevens are out of luck.
That group of Hall of Famers is sidelined this year. And for the
jockeys, who combined to win six Derbies, it's permanent because
each has retired since last year's Run for the Roses.
"When you don't see Wayne or Nick here, you got to be a little
surprised," said Todd Pletcher, a former Lukas assistant with two
The absences have set the stage for a slew of first-time Derby
trainers and jockeys to seize the spotlight with a victory.
"It's gratifying to see the new people that haven't had a
shot," Zito said. "That's great for our sport."
The public may not know trainers Michael Matz (Barbaro), Michael
Trombetto (Sweetnorthernsaint), Tom Albertrani (Deputy Glitters),
Mark Casse (Seaside Retreat) or Daniel Peitz (Steppenwolfer).
And riders Shaun Bridgmohan, Patrick Husbands, Fernando Jara and
Jose Lezcano are making their Derby debuts, too.
They're part of what Bailey regards as a changing of the guard
in an industry constantly seeking its next superstar horse or
"You have to allow the process to work itself out and they will
reveal themselves as the sport continues," he said. "We know it's
Frankel's four-year run of having Derby starters ended this
year. However, he hasn't emphasized developing colts for the Triple
Crown series as heavily as Lukas and Zito.
"It doesn't bother me," he said. "I got some nice
3-year-olds, but I don't want to butcher them up just to run in the
Lukas has four Derby wins from a record 42 starters, and Zito
said his rival's absence "is odd, especially because he'd run
Lukas is missing the race for the third time in six years after
a record run of 20 straight.
"It's hard to feel any remorse in light of the fact that we've
had so many good ones and had such a good run all these years," he
Lukas remains a Derby week presence at Churchill Downs, though.
He plans to saddle four horses on the Derby undercard, and had
Ex Caelis in the Kentucky Oaks for fillies Friday.
He's also in demand among some nervous first-timers.
"I've had a couple of trainers that have called me and said,
'What would you do with this horse if you had him?"' Lukas said.
"I've given them my advice freely."
He'll root for two of his protDegDes -- Pletcher and Kiaran
McLaughlin -- who have two horses each in the Derby.
Zito's absence is especially notable, coming a year after the
two-time winner sent out a record five horses, including favorite
Bellamy Road. He's started 19 Derby horses in his career.
That horse finished seventh -- the best among Zito's group. He
had plenty of prospects this year, but none came through in the
Seeing other trainers parade their hopefuls to the track for
workouts left Zito with "kind of an empty feeling."
"For me, it was like a little bit of anxiety," he said. "I
have to try to get there again."
Like the others, Bailey knows he will acutely feel his outsider
status when the Derby Day crowd sings along to "My Old Kentucky
"I'm sure there'll be little pangs of anxiety and remembrance
and longing to be back for that particular moment," he said. "I
know how hard it is to win and there's a lot of disappointment
after the race. I'll be more on an even keel this year."
Lukas, 70, recently consolidated his stable of 65 horses
exclusively in Kentucky, a significant downsizing for a trainer
whose territory stretched from East to West, with outposts in
"If we were back up to where we were in the mid-'80s and
mid-'90s, we would have never done that," he said.
But Lukas has fewer clients -- having lost some to death and
desertion -- and that means fewer horses. He bailed out of New York
after 20 years, tired of running third or fourth and making little
"There's obviously an adjustment going on," he said. "Your
resume is out there for the world to see, so I don't go out and
hustle anybody, but you'd like to have somebody pick up the
Lukas isn't one to be easily discouraged. Even during slow
times, he's capable of suddenly getting hot again, like in October
when Folklore won the $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.
He plans to jump on the Triple Crown trail by entering Simon
Pure in the May 20 Preakness.
"About the time they say, 'Well, he's not in the Derby this
year,' I'll win the Preakness," he said. "I have a way of landing
on my feet."
Kentucky Derby television coverage begins Saturday, May 6 at 5 p.m. ET on NBC Sports.