D. Wayne Lukas arrived on the Kentucky Derby scene fairly quietly in 1981 when he saddled Partez, a member of the mutuel field, for a third-place run behind Pleasant Colony in the Run for the Roses.
It took the former quarter horse trainer a little while to find his way to the winnerâ€™s circle on Derby Day, but in the 32 years since that renewal of Americaâ€™s greatest race Lukas has left an indelible imprint on the race and its 138 years of tradition.
And, at the age of 77, Lukas is far from finished.
That became clear late Saturday afternoon when a pair of Lukas-trained 3-year-olds â€“ Horton Stablesâ€™ Will Take Charge and Calumet Farmâ€™s Oxbow â€“ finished a head apart in a rousing 1-2 finish in the Grade III Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Their respective efforts likely produced enough points on Churchill Downsâ€™ new â€œRoad to the Kentucky Derbyâ€ system to determine Derby eligible to secure both horses a spot in the maximum field of 20 horses for Kentucky Derby 139 on Saturday, May 4.
The most recent of Lukasâ€™ four Kentucky Derby victories came in 1999 with Charismatic, but the Hall of Fame trainer has opportunities this weekend to add two more names to his roster of horses that could provide him with his first Derby of the millennium.
The field for Saturdayâ€™s Spiral Stakes at Northern Kentuckyâ€™s Turfway Park is expected to include Channel Isle, a Lukas-trained son of English Channel owned by Calumet, which is now owned by Franklin, Ky. native Brad Kelley. Channel Isle finished a distant fourth to Super Ninety Nine over a sloppy track last time out in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park last time out, but it should be noted that he was well in front of stablemate Will Take Charge, who finished sixth in the Southwest slop before reversing his fortunes last weekend in the Rebel.
Titletown Five, a promising colt owned in part by Louisville-born football legend Paul Hornung, is scheduled to run in the Louisiana Derby on March 30 at New Orleans Fair Grounds.Â Hornungâ€™s colt was off for most of the winter following surgery to remove a bone chip discovered after a dazzling maiden romp at Churchill Downs in early November.
He returned with a solid runner-up finish in the six-furlong Gazebo Stakes at Oaklawn Park and will need to run well in the 1 1/8-mile race at Sunland Park to realize Hornungâ€™s dream of competing in a Kentucky Derby.
The Spiral, the last race of the opening leg of the Kentucky Derby Championship Series phase of the Derby points system, is worth 50 points to the winner. The Louisiana Derby, one of the first races in the second leg of the Championship Series, will offer 100 points to its winner.
Titletown Five might be the most fascinating horse in the race if he runs in the big one on the first Saturday in May. Heâ€™s named in honor of the National Football League championships earned by the Green Bay Packers, and Hornung â€“ and NFL Hall of Famer for his glory years in Green Bay â€“ owns the colt in partnership with Green Bay Hall of Famer Willie Davis.Â His Hall of Fame trainer will give jockey Gary Stevens, another racing Hall of Famer, a leg-up into the saddle on Sunday at Sunland.
Lukas and Stevens have teamed for a pair of Kentucky Derby triumphs with Winning Colors, the gray filly who was Lukasâ€™ first Derby winner in 1988, and Thunder Gulch in 1995.
To find a Derby contender supported by as much star power as Titletown Five, one would have to go back to the heyday of Calumet Farm, which raced eight Derby winners under the care of the legendary father-son training duo of Ben and Jimmy Jones and employed the services of five-time Derby winners Eddie Arcaro and Bill Hartack for most of its victories.
Itâ€™s a long way from happening, but four starters in a single Kentucky Derby would not be out of the norm for Lukas. He saddled a record-tying five horses in 1996 and won the race with Grindstone. He saddled three Derby runners on five occasions (2000, 1995, 1990, 1987 and 1983) and, as mentioned before, won the â€™95 Derby with Thunder Gulch.
But a victory by any of Lukasâ€™ four Derby hopefuls at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May would make Lukas, at 77, the oldest trainer to have saddled a winner of the race. Charlie Whittingham was 76 when he won the 1989 Derby with Sunday Silence.
A fifth Kentucky Derby victory by Lukas would move him out of a second-place tie with Herbert â€œDerby Dickâ€ Thompson, who won four Derbies from 1920 to 1937, to within a single win of tying Ben Jonesâ€™ record six Kentucky Derby triumphs.
The last of three pools in Churchill Downs 2013 Kentucky Derby Future Wager gets underway on Friday and neither of this weekâ€™s Lukas heroes figure to battle for the role of favorite in the three-day pool. But Churchill Downs oddsmaker and NBC racing analyst Mike Battaglia does foresee a strong Pool 3 fansâ€™ choice in unbeaten Verrazano, who is the 7-2 favorite in his morning line odds for the poolâ€™s 24 wagering interest.
The Todd Pletcher trainee has been the favored individual horse in the two previous pools of 2013, but the overall bettorsâ€™ choice in each has been the mutuel field, which includes all 3-year-old Thoroughbreds other than the 23 individual horses in the pool.
But Battaglia still expects strong support for the â€œall othersâ€ bet in Pool 3 and he has listed it as the 6-1 second choice in the yearâ€™s final pari-mutuel Derby Future pool.
Could the winner of the 2013 Kentucky Derby still come from outside the 23 individual horses on the Pool 3 betting roster?
Hereâ€™s a look at horses not among those 23 that could make a bet on No. 24, or â€œAll Others,â€ worthwhile: Bob Baffertâ€™s Grade I winner Power Broker and Southwest winner Super Ninety Nine; grass stars Rydilluc and Balance the Books, both of whom will be tested major Derby preps over the next three weekends; El Camino Real Derby winner Dice Flavor, who could become a late Derby and Triple Crown nominee this weekend; Gotham runner-up West Hills Giants; Spectacular Bid winner Merit Man, who will run in the Florida Derby; Departing, who will run in the Louisiana Derby and is another possible late Triple Crown nominee; Kentucky-based Mac the Man and General Election, both set to run in Saturdayâ€™s Spiral; and impressive recent winners Incognito in New York; Govenor Charlie and Footbridge in California; and Zaikov in Florida.
And thatâ€™s just a short list. Happy Derby Future Wagering!
Now, with just over six weeks to go until Kentucky Derby 139, hereâ€™s my Top 10 that appears in our Derby Power Ranking at www.KentuckyDerby.com:
- Shanghai Bobby
- Will Take Charge
- Normandy Invasion