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Wayne Lukas: Still Classic after all these Years

In the Eighties and Nineties he was the undisputed king of thoroughbred racing, the man who changed the sport just as he had altered the quarter horse game.

Wayne Lukas dominated the way Rome did as it conquered the world.

D. Wayne Lukas and Seize the Grey. MJC Photo

He revolutionized the sport by establishing stables in New York, Florida, Kentucky and California, and he flew his endless string of stars all over to raid stakes races. Betting “Wayne off the plane” was a mantra for handicappers.

From 1980 to 2000 Lukas won 15 Triple Crown events, including six in a row from 1994 to 1996. Reading his list of accolades and champions would give you eye strain. But inevitably his glory days would end as death took away his megabucks owners Gene Klein, William Young and Bob Lewis.

As Lukas likes to say, “You’re only as good as your clientele.”

Lukas kept grinding away but now he was just another aging trainer who made little or no impact in the big races.

From Preakness Glory to Kentucky Oaks Joy: Lukas’ Inspiring Wins

His slump in the classics ended with Oxbow’s upset in the 2013 Preakness. Nine years later, Secret Oath’s victory in the Kentucky Oaks was a feel-good story for an 86-year-old trainer. Then came Lukas’ ultimate senior moment with Saturday’s triumph by longshot Seize the Grey in the Preakness.

Time and his relentless drive have transformed Lukas into a beloved elder statesman. As he headed for the Pimlico winner’s circle, he was the focus of a horsey love fest.
“Every one of the trainers that were in that race stopped and hugged me and gave me a handshake,” Lukas said. “Right down the line. That meant more to me than anything.”

At 88, Lukas is as sharp and witty as ever, and his only concession to age is a cane. He still gets up every day at 4 a.m. and gets on his stable pony. He’ll never retire because he wouldn’t know what to do with himself.

“The passion is what gets me up in the morning,” he said. “We’ve got outstanding 2-year-olds and I’m already looking forward to them. I can’t wait to get back to Churchill Downs and start breezing them.

“Watch out for us at Saratoga. We’re going to be awful tough.”


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