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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 9, 2010

Horses: Lukas’ horse on Derby trail with big prep upcoming

AP Sports Writer

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — Over a decade removed from his last Kentucky Derby win, D. Wayne Lukas is quietly optimistic about his chances for another.

Dublin, Lukas' top Derby contender, will run in the Arkansas Derby on Saturday at Oaklawn Park. The chestnut colt is without a win since September, but after finishing second in the Southwest and third in the Rebel, he figures to remain on the Kentucky Derby trail with or without a victory this weekend.

"Our goal is not Saturday. We're looking beyond that," said Lukas, the Hall of Fame trainer. "Don't get me wrong, we're going to try to win the race, but our major goal is the one that really counts."

Lukas has won the Kentucky Derby four times, but not since Charismatic's victory back in 1999. It's been a while since he saddled a major contender, but Dublin came on the scene impressively with two straight wins last year, including a triumph in the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga.

Dublin (7-2) is one of three main contenders in the Arkansas Derby. Super Saver (9-5) is the morning-line favorite, and Noble's Promise (2-1) is also in the mix after finishing a close second in the Rebel.

Super Saver, with jockey Calvin Borel aboard, drew the No. 1 post. Dublin and Noble's Promise will start immediately to his outside in the 1 1-8-mile race.

"He doesn't have to be on the lead. He'll be there if I want," Borel said. "We'll just see what happens when the gates break. He's a nice colt. Don't underestimate him."

There are nine horses entered in the race.

Super Saver set a stakes record in last year's Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs, but he's raced only once in 2010, finishing third in the Tampa Bay Derby. The Todd Pletcher-trained colt is 25th on the graded stakes earnings list, meaning he's by no means assured of a spot yet in the May 1 Derby.

Noble's Promise, trained by Kenny McPeek, is also trying for his first win this year. He won the Breeders' Futurity in October, and he began his 2010 campaign by finishing second in the Rebel to Lookin At Lucky, another top Derby contender. Lookin At Lucky is bypassing the Arkansas Derby after racing in last weekend's Santa Anita Derby.

Dublin was 3 lengths behind Noble's Promise in the Rebel.

"I thought his race last time was respectable. He's going to have to run better to beat us, and we think we'll improve a little bit, so we'll see," McPeek said.

Although Dublin hasn't won in a while, Lukas appears confident his horse has a big race in him — and he's hoping it will happen in May at Churchill Downs. Sire Afleet Alex won the Arkansas Derby by a then-record 8 lengths in 2005, then went on to take the Preakness and Belmont.

Afleet Alex is one of several Arkansas Derby entries in recent years that went on to bigger and better things. Smarty Jones swept Oaklawn's entire prep series — the Southwest, Rebel and Arkansas Derby — in 2004 before winning the first two legs of the Triple Crown. In 2007, Curlin broke Afleet Alex's record with a 10›-length victory in the Arkansas Derby, then later took the Preakness as well.

Last year, Summer Bird was third in the Arkansas Derby then quickly blossomed, winning the Belmont en route to honors as the year's top 3-year-old colt.

Lukas hasn't won the Arkansas Derby since 1985, but it's safe to say he isn't worried about that. It's the Kentucky Derby drought he'd like to end.

"I think I'm in a great spot to win it. I like my horse, I like where I'm at," he said. "In all my wins, the four that did win it, I never did make a lot of noise until the day."