Horse Racing

Review of the week: Wayne Lukas’s revival


As Hall of Famer Wayne Lukas entered his eighties, his longevity and endurance became one of racing’s most exciting stories. A coach considered one of the best of all time, still out there every day, physically active, mentally sharp. Nothing seems to stop him.

But there is one missing ingredient. Lukas, now 87, simply hasn’t won many races, especially the important ones. Lukas won GII Risen Star S. 2018 with Bravazo (Awesome Again) on February 17, 2018. He didn’t win another classified stake until secret oath (Arrogate) won the GIII Honeybee S. on February 16, 2022, nearly four years after Bravazo’s victory. From 2018 to 2021, he won only 69 races and his win rate is just 10.8%. It’s not hard to understand what’s going on. Not many owners are willing to hand over their horses to a trainer over the age of eighty. The days with Eugene Klein, William T. Young. Bob and Beverly Lewis and so many other top owners are long gone.

At his age, Lukas seems destined to spend the rest of his days with a relatively small stable with the type of horse that could bring him a win-win here or there. Counting him out seems like a safe bet. Only that’s not the case.

When Last Samurai (Malibu Moon) won the GIII Essex H. Saturday in Oaklawn, Lukas took third place for the year. He also won GIII Razorback H. with Last Samurai and GII Azeri S. with Secret Oath. It’s early but both look like Eclipse Award contenders. He hasn’t had an Eclipse Award winner since Take Charge Brandi (Giant’s Causeway) was crowned champion as a chubby 2-year-old in 2014.

He may not be the Wayne Lukas of the mid-eighties when he dominated the sport. What he is is relevant again.

Much of this has to do with the Vow of Secrets, who brought Lukas back into the limelight last year and proved he can still get the job done at the highest level. Her win in the GI Kentucky Oaks is arguably Lukas’ biggest win since Will Take Charge (Unbridled’s Song) won GI Travers S. in 2013. Not that Lukas remembers how to train. It was someone – the stallion’s owners and breeders, Rob and Stacy Mitchell – willing to give Lukas a chance with a talented stallion.

“We were with him, my God, 15 or 17 years,” Stacy Mitchell to TDN .’s Chris McGrath last year. “He’s fair, he’s honest, a true gentleman, someone everyone should have a chance to sit down and have coffee with. As he said, times have changed. Some of his major clients have left the business, some have passed away. Again, he said it himself, before people loved the old people, now they love the new people. But a lot of them are people he trained himself. You don’t forget how to ride a bike and I don’t think you forget how to train a horse. People can say Wayne is back, but in my mind, I don’t think he’s gone.”

In the middle of last summer, Willis Horton, who has had many leading horses with Lukas for many years, also showed some faith in the Hall of Famer. He made a switch, sending 4-year-old Last Samurai from Dallas Stewart to Lukas. (Horton has passed away and the last Samurai is now racing for his family.) Initially, it didn’t look like Lukas would gain much from the horse that had lost seven games in a row after changing trainers. But Lukas figured something out, and the Ultimate Samurai is now one of the hottest horses in the sport.

Ask Lukas and he will tell you he has nothing to lose from his quick ball.

“Our game is an experience-based game,” he said. “There is no manual. If you’ve been there for as long as I have it gets a little easier. You see things that you can fix. Now I see things I can do with a horse that I wouldn’t realize when I was in my forties or fifties. The game just got a little easier. Believe it or not, I think it’s easier for me to develop a good looking horse now than when I was 50 years old and I had great years in that era.

After all these years, is he still studying?

“If you are in the horse business, you always have to learn,” says Lukas. “The whole secret of this game is reading the horse. You need to read the horse and figure out its capabilities without overdoing it. That’s where you get in trouble. You think you can grow a horse to a certain level in a certain time frame, and when you fail at that level, you won’t get the most out of the horse. If you can read them and know when to push them and when not to get into the game that could be pretty good.”

The Secret Vow is heading to GI Apple Blossom H., where she’ll likely be a favorite. Next up for Last Samurai will likely be GII Oaklawn H., the race he won last year for Stewart. Both are $1 million races. Lukas also has the Caddo River (Spin hard), who finished second in the 2021 GI Arkansas Derby and won the grant on February 25 in Oaklawn, and Major Blue (Flatter), the recent first-place winner at Oaklawn. He’s on track to have his best year since 2013.

He will turn 88 in September. Yes, he is a survivor but this year he is showing that he is more than that.

secretary | coglian

Fifty years ago, the Secretariat won its debut at the age of 3

On March 17, 1973, the Secretariat made its debut at the age of 3 at the GIII Bay Shore S. in the Aqueduct. Click This to replay the race.

How things have changed. The wallet only had $27,750 and the attendance was 32,906. This is the first of his three prep runs for the GI Kentucky Derby and they’ll be within five weeks, culminating in his defeat in the GI Wood Memorial.

Bay Shore is not without controversy. Riding the Impeunious, jockey James Moseley fouled the Secretariat and rider Ron Turcotte. The secretariat was blocked for most of the race and Turcotte had to overtake his horses in the ramp. Coach Lucien Laurin was not pleased.

“That’s Moseley,” he said. “He made a statement against me at Garden State, but it turned out his horse was at fault in that race.”

As reported in the New York Times, some fans booed when the managers announced they would not change the order of the finish.

“Let them boo,” Penny Tweedy said. “We won the race.”

But Laurin was pleased with the end result.

He was amazing, he said. “He did everything I expected.”

Fifty years after the most memorable season in horse racing history, it would be the perfect time for the NYRA to announce that it has named a bet race in honor of Big Red. GI Hopeful S., the winning race secretariat, would be a perfect candidate. But it didn’t happen.

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