Baffert, Lukas Hail Preakness as “Most Fun” of Triple Crown Races

Forty-four years after Codex gave him his first of six Preakness victories, D. Wayne Lukas is back with longshots Just Steel and Seize the Grey. They would give him 48 entries in the race, a record that will last forever, and the 88-year-old Hall of Famer keeps his enthusiasm for the Pimlico classic.

D. Wayne Lukas. Coady Photo.

Hall of Famers D. Wayne Lukas and Bob Baffert have 14 Preakness wins between the two of them

“We look forward to it,” Lukas said this week on a national conference call. “The Preakness is the most fun of any of the Triple Crown races, by far. We love to come to Baltimore for the simple reason that they stable us all in one barn. It’s like sharing the same locker room before a big game. We have great camaraderie.”

Bob Baffert earned the first of his record-setting eight Preakness wins with Silver Charm in 1997, and he eclipsed 19th Century trainer R.W. Walden last year with National Treasure. Baffert, 71, agrees with Lukas, whom he idolized while growing up in Arizona.

“Compared to the Derby, there’s less stress,” Baffert said. “It’s a very nice atmosphere.  It’s my favorite of the three because everybody’s just relaxed. We have a good time.”

Baffert had to scratch Arkansas Derby winner Muth, the 8-5 morning-line favorite, but he still will run Santa Anita Derby runner-up Imagination. Both would have run in Louisville if not for Churchill Downs Inc.’s Derby ban of Baffert horses.

Baffert and Lukas don’t see as much of each other now as they did back in the day. Lukas competes mainly at Churchill, Keeneland and Oaklawn Park. Except for Preakness week, rarely does either come to Pimlico, so they savor their reunions there.

Baffert and Lukas: A Legendary Rivalry Defined by Mutual Admiration

They became rivals in the mid-Nineties when Baffert began to make his mark at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Del Mar, tracks Lukas had ruled since the early Eighties. Each trained for Bob Lewis, who liked to play one off against the other. Over time their connection became a mutual admiration society even as Baffert replaced Lukas as king of the Triple Crown.

“I’ve known Wayne since I was 17 years old,” Baffert said. “He’s just an incredible trainer. People don’t realize what a legend he is. He changed the sport of quarter horse racing, really made it better and revolutionized it. Went to the thoroughbreds, did the same thing.

“To me he was always the bar, and he’s still the bar for me.”

He never worked for Lukas, but Baffert followed his path, branching out into thoroughbreds after excelling with quarter horses. “I grew up knowing the same sort of people Wayne did, so we have a lot in common,” he said.

Despite walking with a cane, Lukas still gets on his pony early every morning. He’ll be 90 next year, and his energy and intensity amaze Baffert.

“It’s incredible, his work ethic, getting on that horse at his age,” Baffert said. “But he loves what he does, and he still has it. I can’t see him retiring. He just wouldn’t know what to do with himself.”


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