Feb. 6, 2013
Wednesday, February 06, 2013
Lukas and Kelley Bring Calumet Farm Back to Oaklawn
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas is a student of racing history, necessarily as an author of so much of it, and is very excited as he sends out horses for owner Brad Kelley under his newly transferred banner of Calumet Farm.
Beginning Thursday, with Wine Glow in the seventh race, Kelley’s horses will now be listed as racing for the legendary Lexington, Kentucky stud. Kelley, who previously raced as Bluegrass Hall, was part of an investment group that purchased Calumet in May 2012 and Kelley leases the name and facility for his extensive breeding operation.
Through the middle of the 20th Century, Calumet Farm was synonymous with champions, from Citation through Alydar, many of which ran at Oaklawn. Of the 20 named barns at Oaklawn, four honor Calumet horses - Citation, Alydar, Davona Dale and Coaltown.
Lukas revolutionized racing beginning in the early 1980s and dominated the sport’s major events for more than two decades. Through mismanagement and fraud, the farm fell on hard times and lost its place among major operations. Lukas saw his spot at the pinnacle usurped in recent seasons (often by trainers he developed as assistants), but several important stakes wins this year and Kelley’s considerable commitments have the 77-year-old trainer looking forward to regular returns to the top.
“There’s such a tradition associated with the name and it has had such an impact on the sport over the years,” Lukas said. “[Kelley’s] program is a top-to-bottom plan from the studs to the broodmares to the yearlings. We already have some great opportunities here under the roof, but based on the way he’s going about it, we should have every opportunity to take it to the next level and have some fun for the next couple years.”
Lukas played a role in the last bits of glory for Calumet, training Criminal Type to a Horse of the Year title in 1990 – the last champion to race in Calumet’s original “devil red and blue” silks. Those colors were purchased by the Brazilian racing group Stud TNT and Kelley will continue to be represented by his black silks with gold chevrons.
“We had some really good luck training for them there at the end,” said Lukas. “I helped them get breeder of the year and horse of the year the last time, so it has really come full circle for me personally. I’m really looking forward to the chance to develop the same thing for the new ownership.”
Recent stakes wins by Calumet runners Optimizer and Oxbow show Lukas is well on his way to making the most of that chance. Optimizer, who was second in the Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn last year, recently won a stakes on grass at the Fair Grounds. Oxbow, who trains in Hot Springs, is pointing toward the Risen Star Stakes in New Orleans after taking the LeComte Stakes there Jan. 19.
“Oxbow is just super right now,” said Lukas. “He’s really an amazing horse with the way he trains.”
Lukas can also count another Hall of Famer as a client as retired football coach Bill Parcells was announced last weekend as an inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
“I had a great talk with him Monday,” said Lukas. “Late in his career, when he was hired by the Cowboys, he told me the thing he was going to miss most about going back to coaching was summers at Saratoga. He said the same thing last year when the Saints took a run at him. He loves his racing. I told him I really hope I can get away from Saratoga for his induction. I really want to be there. He’s a special guy.”
Lukas’s connections to legendary sports figures also include famed Green Bay Packers Paul Hornung and Willie Davis. Both are part-owners of Titletown Five, a 3-year-old colt who returned to the workout tab Sunday for the first time since a dynamic win last October and subsequent minor knee surgery.
“He’s been galloping beautifully and he looked wonderful working the other morning,” said Lukas. “We are playing catch up. We know that. But it’s been my experience that horses with that kind of talent, it doesn’t take them as long to get back where they were. Horses without that kind of talent you have to work on and work on, but he’s got that gift. So, we are obviously coming along late to the party, but we are looking at mid-March and seeing where we are at. If he can come back to his form, he’s going to be something special.”
Hobby Holding Several Hot Hands
Trainer Steve Hobby has a dilemma, but it’s the kind of dilemma many trainers would gladly wrestle with. After two victories by 3-year-old colts Big Lute and For Greater Glory last weekend, Hobby is trying to figure out the proper next steps and the calendar isn’t cooperating.
Owned by Joann and Alex Lieblong, both colts performed strongly enough to crop up on the radar of many trackers of the Kentucky Derby trail. Big Lute won a lucrative maiden race in his career debut last Friday in a time that was faster than older sprinters ran earlier on the card. The effort registered high speed figures in the 90s among the leading public past performance makers.
For Greater Glory got a crafty ride from leading jockey Robby Albarado en route to winning a maiden race at a mile Sunday afternoon. While not as fast or visually impressive, Hobby has reason to believe the choice of what the next race should be has to include stakes options like the $300,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn Feb. 18.
“What to do?” asked Hobby Wednesday morning at Oaklawn. “I’m about a week off from perfect timing. I’d like to get an allowance race, and there’s one on the day before the Southwest, but for Big Lute that’s just 16 days. And the Southwest is 17. That’s pretty quick to come back than I’d like with a second-time starter. But the quandary is wait a little bit more, and where does that put me for the Rebel?”
The $600,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) is March 16 at 1 1/16th miles.
“The Southwest is definitely too quick back for For Greater Glory,” said Hobby of his Sunday winner who held on by a neck over Moon Back More, who was hampered by traffic trouble and ran out of time to rally in the short stretch. “Everybody will probably say we probably weren’t the best horse in that race, but I told Alex going in that we were about a work or two short. I felt okay at a mile, but not at a mile-sixteen. He’s a better horse than he ran and distance is definitely in his future.”
And while Big Lute was sired by champion sprinter and two-time Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Midnight Lute, Hobby feels fairly confident longer, two-turn distance races are in his future.
“I had always heard Midnight Lute had throat surgeries,” he said. “So was he such a good sprinter because he couldn’t run long or was he a good sprinter because he couldn’t breathe? With this colt I’ve got Deputy Minister on the mom’s side. He’s a big, strong, manly son-of-a-buck and he strides like he definitely wants to stretch out. We’ve got to find that out.”
Hobby also reported 2012 Azeri Stakes (G3) winner Tiz Miz Sue was on target for her seasonal return in the $100,000 Bayakoa Stakes Feb. 16 and that jockey Joe Rocco Jr. would be up from Florida to ride her.
“She’s super-duper,” said Hobby. “I told Joe to get his plane ticket and get ready.”