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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 14, 2010

Horse racing: Thirty years later, Lukas remains driven to win


By DAVID GINSBURG
AP Sports Writer

BALTIMORE Thirty years ago, an unheralded trainer by the name of D. Wayne Lukas arrived at the Preakness with a horse named Codex.

The other trainers at Pimlico weren't impressed with Lukas, who showed up wearing a 10-gallon hat and appeared to be in awe of his surroundings.

"They didn't know who I was," Lukas recalled this week. "I came over from the quarter horses. But they said, 'The cowboy's horse looks really good."'

Codex ended up winning the race. It was the first of five career Preakness victories for Lukas, now 74 and a Hall of Fame trainer who commands the respect of every one of his peers.

Lukas has two entrants in the 135th Preakness on Saturday: Dublin and Northern Giant. Both are considered long shots to win, but that won't prevent Lukas from having some fun this week.

"This has been a good spot. This is the most fun of all of them," he said. "(Trainer Bob) Baffert and I went to dinner, and we said, 'We'll just go in there and have a good time in Baltimore and enjoy the Preakness,' which we always do."

The Triple Crown happens once a year, and Baltimore is where the action is for those who train horses for a living.

"What else are we going to do with them?" Lukas said. "It's five weeks to the Belmont. If we have got a Belmont horse, and that's a gray area, too, for everybody. So, this is the one."

Dublin finished seventh in the Kentucky Derby, which does not bode well for Lukas in his quest to earn his first Triple Crown win since 2000 in the Belmont. He changed jockeys, from Terry Thompson to Garrett Gomez, a switch that has renewed his optimism.

"If you have Peyton Manning, we're not going to leave him in the locker room, we're going to get him on the field," Lukas said, comparing Gomez to the Colts' perennial Pro Bowl quarterback. "With all the marbles on the table, if we know if we can get Gomez, we need to go with him."

Besides, who cares what happened in Kentucky anyway?

"I've had great luck here," Lukas said. "If you look back through the history books, we've run horses in the Derby that have been sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth and we come in here and bam! For years, I used the Derby as a prep for the Preakness."

That last line, of course, was thrown out there to entertain the media. But Lukas will never forget his first trip to Baltimore, and laughs when thinking about how he's changed over the past three decades.

"I remember in 1980 the guy brought the hay by. You'd have thought he took my first born. I said, 'Do you feed this to the horses? It isn't even good for cattle.' So we fed straight alfalfa to Codex all week long," Lukas said.

"But when you get a little older, you roll with things and don't let it get to you. I'm a lot more relaxed, but I feel good about the race, too."

And about life in general.

"Humility is only a race away. You get all pumped up and wham, they drop you to your knees," Lukas said. "I'm comfortable where I am. I don't have to wake up every morning and try to prove to you guys I can train a horse. I'm beyond that. I just wake up every morning, content with what I'm doing, and hope I don't have any bad luck. Then I take it from there."

Lukas and Baffert used to duel like a couple of horses racing toward the finish line. Now they're what can best be described as friendly adversaries.

"We've seen it all. The fire is still burning in our bellies, but in a different way," Baffert said. "There was a time when the rivalry was really strong. But as you get older, things change. If I don't win, I want to see him win. It makes a big difference."

Lukas has five Preakness wins, second on the career list for trainers behind only R.W. Walden, who had seven from 1875-1888.

"I'm very proud of that," Lukas said. "There isn't anyone else here who's got five. Or four Derbys for that matter.

"Why would you get up at 3:30 every day of your life and do this if you didn't keep score? I'm keeping score," he said. "I want No. 6 here, I want a couple more Derbys. Years from now, when I'm gone and you guys are having coffee, when you say who won the most of them, I don't want you to stutter. I want you to have it right on the tip of your tongue."