BALTIMORE – Hours after saddling his record 14th winner in a Triple Crown race, D. Wayne Lukas’ reward to himself was doubling up on the scoops of ice cream that went with his celebratory hot apple pie.
Gregarious celebrations never have been part of the Hall of Fame trainer’s routine. For Lukas, the real treat came at around 4:40 a.m. Sunday morning when he walked into the shedrow and saw the horse who notched his latest milestone looking as almost as fresh as his ageless conditioner.
At 77 years of age, Lukas is still seeking out those who can keep up with the pace he has set over the decades. Having sent Calumet Farm’s Oxbow out to an upset win in the 138th Preakness Stakes Saturday, Lukas discussed the possibility of adding to his record total of classic wins when the Belmont Stakes rolls around on June 8.
Like the man in charge of his care, Oxbow possesses an energy that rarely dulls. After being close to a pace that cooked everyone else around it, the son of Awesome Again fought on to finish a respectable sixth in the Kentucky Derby.
When he crossed the wire 1 3/4 lengths in front in the Preakness, stunning the likes of Kentucky Derby winner Orb with his gate-to-wire exploits, Oxbow continued to tout himself with his post-race enthusiasm.
“You know what impressed me the most was the gallop out. That rascal was opening up 6-7 lengths on the gallop out,” said Lukas, who notched his sixth Preakness win, one behind Robert Walden all-time record. “There were a couple of them struggling a bit but he wasn’t. I was amazed how fresh he was after the race, no stress at all. He never even broke a sweat.”
The 1 3/16-miles Preakness was the third career victory and sixth start already this year for Oxbow. Coming back in three weeks for the 1 1/2-miles Belmont Stakes – where he will likely face Orb again – should be right in the wheelhouse of the colt known for wearing out his exercise riders.
“Every day we take him out there I tell the gallop boy, you can’t keep letting him roll around there like that, you have to get a hold of him and he says ‘Boss, I’m trying,” Lukas said. “I say ‘Tomorrow we’ll just do less’ and then we do the same damn thing. He is some kind of tough.”
“Anybody that wants to come and tangle with him early on, bring it on,” said Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, who masterfully got Oxbow to relax through an opening half mile in :48.60 Saturday. “You’re going to get in trouble if you tangle with him.”
Unlike his sweeping outside move in the Kentucky Derby, Orb was never able to free himself from being stuck inside after breaking from post position No. 1, finishing a shockingly well-beaten fourth Saturday.
True to his classy nature, Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey digested the disappointment of having Orb’s Triple Crown hopes dashed with great perspective. In stating that he “sure would like to” go on to the Belmont Stakes, McGaughey wants to give the colt who had won five straight and trained brilliantly a shot at labeling his Preakness outing a fluke.
“Obviously we’re disappoint but he came back fine. I do think he’s better than the race he ran yesterday,” McGaughey said. “I’m not sure I’ve figured out why we didn’t run quite as well as we needed to but…my hat’s off to Wayne. He’s a remarkable guy.”
Lukas said that in addition to Oxbow, he would consider running Will Take Charge, seventh in the Preakness, back in the Belmont. Preakness runner-up Itsmyluckyday is considered “50-50” at best for the Belmont, according to trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. while third place finisher Mylute and Grade I winner Goldencents, who ran fifth, are likely to get some time off.
“It doesn’t make sense to go on to the Belmont,” said Doug O’Neill, trainer of Goldencents. “We had talked prior (to the Preakness) that if we didn’t run huge and came out of it great, we wouldn’t come back in three weeks.”
Among the other possible runners for the Belmont are Golden Soul and Revolutionary – the second and third place finishers, respectively, in the Kentucky Derby – Peter Pan Stakes winner Freedom Child, Grade I winner Overanalyze and Power Broker. Trainer Todd Pletcher also previously indicated he would consider starting fillies Unlimited Budget and Dreaming of Julia in the final leg of the Triple Crown.
“I’m sure there will be horses coming out of the woodwork now to try and win the Belmont. If he comes out of it good, I would like the chance,” McGaughey said. “It would have sure been fun to go on (with a Triple Crown on the line) but we’ll go on in another respect. I’ll be disappointed but we won a Kentucky Derby and that’s what we started out to try and do. We just didn’t get the whole thing done.”