Racing’s Version of Creeque Alley

Jan. 24, 2013

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Many in my generation go back to musical groups like the Mamas and Papas and enjoy recalling their greatest hits.  Many of us remembered the lyrics.  That’s probably why I got to trying to create a line similar to one of my favorite Mamas and Papas hits, Creeque Alley, when I was on the way home after the Smarty Jones Stakes on Monday.  It goes something like “Everyone’s Hearing Facts, ‘cept D-W-L.”

This was, on paper, the best weekend for D. Wayne Lukas in recent memory.  Sure, he won a race on Breeders’ Cup weekend. But, it was the Juvenile Sprint, a race most in the racing world don’t take all that seriously.  He had some fun last year with Optimizer, finishing second in the Rebel, trying all the big name horses and eventually settling for a little turf stakes win at Delaware Park.  But, this is the spring and, when you win two major races on any weekend, you can be big news in a hurry.

And, if Lukas is one thing, it’s that he’s ready for big news.  He followed up a huge win with Oxbow in the LeComte at Fair Grounds on Saturday with a win in the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn on Monday with Will Take Charge.  That’s cloud nine stuff, even for the articulate and outspoken Lukas.

Let’s begin by admitting that for Lukas to win is like the Yankees in baseball and the Lakers in basketball.  You either love ‘em or hate ‘em.  I happen to be a Lukas fan, so I’m going to enjoy this ride.

I enjoyed the race at Oaklawn especially, since it involved a son of the mare Take Charge Lady.  I go back to one of the most memorable races of my career, the 2003 Apple Blossom Handicap, which matched Take Charge Lady, the star shipper from Florida, against Azeri, the defending Horse-of-the-Year. On that afternoon Azeri got up to defeat Take Charge Lady in the last half-jump.  The picture of that finish dots many locations here at Oaklawn.  To my way of thinking it is the greatest photo of a finish ever taken.  It didn’t win an Eclipse Award, but should have.

In the picture both Take Charge Lady and Azeri are positioned exactly the same, as in some form of synchronized racing competition.  They are different colors, Azeri a chestnut, Take Charge Lady a dark bay, but they have similar marking on their foreheads and both have all four feet off the ground in lock-step.  It was a breath-taking finish and started Azeri out on the second of her three years as the champion older mares.  One year later she came back in the hands of Wayne Lukas and scored
Take Charge Lady has gained a measure of revenge, not just in the win by Lukas’ charge, Will Take Charge, in Monday’s Oaklawn feature, but also with Take Charge Indy, another of her offspring, winner of the 2012 Florida Derby.  Take Charge Lady may very well win her Eclipse Award as Mare of the Year.

But, for now, the show and the stage belong to Lukas.  Lukas, by the way, took over the training of Azeri after it looked like she’d be retired.  Many thought it was crazy to bring her back, but Lukas did with her first start in the 2004 Apple Blossom.  It was her third win in the Grade 1 event, the only runner to have done that since the race was first run in 1958.  Up until the past three years when Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta and Havre de Grace became the first three females to be honored as Horse-of-the-Year in successive years, Lukas had trained two of the first three to gain the honor, Lady’s Secret and Azeri.  The only other one was All Along.  The latter raced primarily in Europe, where Lukas couldn’t get his hands on her.

By the way Azeri was elected to the National Racing Hall of Fame in 2010, eleven years after Lukas himself was inducted.  Not only does he have the established integrity of a spot in the Hall of Fame, but he has some runners who stand to make some noise over the next few month, leading up to the Triple Crown.  For the record D. Wayne has won 13 Triple Crown races, starting with Codex in the 1980 Preakness and his most recent was with Commendable in the 2000 Belmont Stakes.  His career in racing has spanned almost 40 years, not counting the time he spent with quarter horses, prior to getting into the thoroughbred game.

He’s entitled to a bit of bombast and we’re about to get a tablespoonful or more.  “We’re in limbo right now” he said immediately following the scores by Oxbow and Will Take Charge, “And I have one more that I like who might be that kind.  So we have lots of options.”  He’s convinced that Will Take Charge is just fine even though there was immediate veterinary interest in the colt when he was pulling up.  “He must have just tweaked something when he was pulling up,” according to D. Wayne.  That kind of stuff scares me.

Everybody’s hearing facts, ‘cept D-W-L.  Sure hope I’m wrong.  The song was right, though, “No one’s getting fat, ‘cept Mama Cass.”  That girl could sure sing but she did get hefty. And that horse of Wayne’s can sure run.  Both of them can.

As an aside, the finish of the Smarty Jones on Monday had Will Take Charge edging Texas Bling, a reversal of their one-two finish in a race called the Springboard Mile at Remington Park in December.  Equibase chartcaller Jeff Taylor had been talking up that race for some time and believes it’s the best race in the Midwest for two-year-olds in the fall of the year.  Now, Jeff doesn’t make a salary like the top baseball, football or basketball players, so he might be inclined to take a step over to the mutuel window to augment his income.  Although he kept his hands in his pockets prior to the race, he appeared ready to put a fist through the wall when the exacta price of $316. popped up on the tote board.  No one was getting fat, including JT.           

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