Jan. 27, 2013
Lately the fortunes of trainer D. Wayne Lukas have been the subject of a good deal of media coverage. Lukas is a media darling with a short quotable note for every occasion. But he backs it up with success. This is not a first for Lukas, but it seems to trace directly to him becoming a regular on the Oaklawn backstretch.
Wayne burst onto the scene as Oaklawn’s leading trainer, not without some attendant fanfare, in 2011, winning a bevy of races with young horses who were working their way through their conditions. Lately, he has been doing the same thing, but mixing it in with stakes success at both Oaklawn and Fair Grounds.
This past weekend he dominated Saturday talk with a pair of three-year-old winners at Oaklawn and a turf stakes winner at Fair Grounds. While he did win two three-year-old stakes a week ago, when he took the LeComte at Fair Grounds with Oxbow and the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn with Will Take Charge, we have yet to see his best in action. That one, Titletown Five, chronicled in this blog a week ago, we got to see Red Wings get a maiden win and Channel Isle take a non-winners of two allowance score on Saturday. Both of those colts are sired by English Channel, which suggests they are both headed for turf eventually. His other son of English Channel, Optimizer, who teased dirt track players with a second in the Rebel at Oaklawn last year, notched his second turf stakes win at Fair Grounds on Saturday with a front-running score as the favorite in the Col. E. F. Bradley Handicap. Lukas is clearly the best friend of the English Channel Syndicate who is saddling horses these days. I fully expect to see an ad congratulating Lukas from that outfit in trade publications during the next week or so.
The assault on the trainer standings by Lukas may continue as it did in 2011. Cody Autrey, notoriously a quick starter, had his stock ready for the season and that group of speedy claimers are claiming (pardon the pun) their share of success. Meanwhile so many of the Lukas band need the maiden special weight and allowance races to go, that it makes it tough for Lukas to win that kind of battle. Furthermore Lukas has to do battle with trainers like Steve Asmussen and Jamie Ness, who have dozens more horses to utilize in pursuit of leading trainer honors.
But, this is a time for business for the Lukas barn. The purses are very good here and whatever follows for D. Wayne doesn’t figure to be as lucrative as it is here. His intense work ethic and high-quality set of clients combine to provide him with headline makers which place Lukas in center court during the Oaklawn meet.
Ironically, on a day when Lukas was dominating, he did not run one-two in a six-horse field in the Oaklawn Saturday feature, the King Cotton. Instead his two highly-regarded entrants into the short field, Hamazing Destiny and Laurie’s Rocket, were getting small parts of the $60,000 pie, behind Apprehender and Alsvid, in the six furlong headliner. Those who chose Hamazing Destiny and Laurie’s Rocket, riding the Lukas train, were forced to see the only disappointments of the day and re-group for the next opportunities.
It makes for fun for racing fans when Lukas is doing well at Oaklawn. We have a coterie of trainers leaning on their horses to beat him and the racing improves as that happens. We have yet to see much shipping of horses from outside locations, although that’s not far into the future. Many who have had success with topping the Lukas stock in Kentucky and/or California have been fearless in catching the air shuttles to Arkansas to take away the lion’s share of purses. It doesn’t appear that Lukas will allow it to be quite as easy, judging by the early successes. That’s good for all of us.
The Essex Handicap will be raced here next Saturday. Lukas has Skyring nominated, among the list of 27 prospects published by the Racing Office this week. Skyring is another English Channel offspring and finished second, beaten in a photo, in the opening weekend Fifth Season Stakes. There’s a lot to like there, including momentum, as Lukas is likely to face Donoharm, who defeated him in the Fifth Season, as well as Win Willie, a horse-for-course, who finished third in the aforementioned Fifth Season, his first start of the year. It will not be an easy spot for Skyring, but there is some Lukas magic working for him in this “Lukas Spring” and that can’t be overlooked.
By the way, just for the record, English Channel, the stallion whose popularity may very well hinge on the continued string of Lukas winners, stands at Lane’s End Farm in Kentucky, where he is neighbor to a couple of other Oaklawn standouts, Curlin and The Factor, as well as to Curlin’s sire, Smart Strike. If you’re ever in Kentucky, stop by and see some of your old friends. But don’t forget English Channel. He never raced at Oaklawn, but he is definitely influencing racing in this part of the country and contributes heavily to the success of another “Lukas Spring”.