No trainer in the history of the Kentucky Derby (G1) has started more runners than D. Wayne Lukas, and it looks as if the 82-year-old trainer will pad that total this year with a pair of promising 3-year-olds in his barn.
The Hall of Fame trainer saddled Risen Star (G2) upset winner Bravazo on Feb. 17 and then, two days later, Sporting Chance ran a game third with traffic troubles in the Southwest (G3) at Oaklawn Park.
Lukas, known simply as “The Coach,” has visited the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday of May four times in his career — with Winning Colors (1988), Thunder Gulch (1995), Grindstone (1996) and Charismatic (1999) winning the Run for the Roses among his record 48 starters.
Lukas could become the oldest trainer to win the first jewel of the Triple Crown. The record is held by Art Sherman, who was 77 years young when he saddled California Chrome in 2014.
Bravazo stamped his ticket to Louisville by winning the Risen Star, the first Road to the Kentucky Derby race that offered up 50 points to the winner, more than enough to secure a starting spot in the gate on the first Saturday of May.
The colt showed some promise as a juvenile, running second in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) and third in the Street Sense before fading to finish 10th in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2).
Dismissed at 21-1 in the Risen Star, the colt prompted the early pace with Miguel Mena aboard, dueled in the stretch while drifting out a path, and prevailed by a hard-fought nose over 41-1 longshot Snappy Sinclair.
“I didn’t know it was that close,” Lukas said by phone from Hot Springs. “He [Mena] was getting into him pretty good and he drifted out. That cost us a little bit. He’s a fighter. He’s tough. He’s got real good tactical speed. He’s a horse that carries his weight well and can withstand training up to the [Kentucky] Derby.”
On Feb. 19, Lukas sent out Sporting Chance in the Southwest. The $575,000 Keeneland purchase was making his first start since winning the Hopeful (G1) last September at Saratoga at seven furlongs in his first start against winners.
Sent off at 9-2 in a field of 10 under jockey Luis Saez, the colt had to settle for third after a rough trip. He stalked the early pace and had to steady when bumped and jostled at about the eighth pole, losing his momentum briefly.
“Good effort,” Lukas said after the race. “He gotRoad to the Roses: Lukas Looking Another Kentucky Derby Score shot down in the stretch. They came in on both sides and broke our momentum. Still came back to run third. Off a six, seven-month layoff, I was very pleased.”
His price in early Kentucky Derby betting at US Racing has dropped to 33-1. He likely will return in the Rebel (G2) at Oaklawn Park on March 17.
It has been nearly two decades since Lukas won the Derby, but don’t forget he did win the Preakness (G1) in 2013 with Oxbow and The Coach shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.
There’s another big race on Saturday, March 3, when the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) from Gulfstream Park takes place. Among the top contenders pointing toward this race include Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) champion Good Magic, Holy Bull (G2) runner up Free Drop Billy and Swale (G3) winner Strike Power.
Michael Dempsey is a freelance writer and full-time professional handicapper and horseplayer, and previously was one of the top handicappers for TrackMaster/Equibase for over a decade, consistently picking winners for a loyal base of customers.
In 1999, Michael left his handicapping position at TrackMaster/Equibase to create Turf’nSport. Since then, horseplayers around the world have stopped by Turfnsport for Michael’s full-card analysis and selections, and for his opinions on anything and everything to do with horse racing, sports, and gambling.
Michael created and was host and producer of the TurfnSport Radio Network. It was one of horse racing’s first Internet web casts dedicated to the sport. During its four-year run, Michael interviewed hundreds of guests in the industry, including Hall of Famers Gary Stevens, Mike Smith, Julie Krone, Bill Shoemaker and “Bud” Delp.
Michael currently resides in Florida.