Just Steel Co-Owner Brian Coelho Chats Excitement for Rebel Stakes, D. Wayne Lukas’ Mentorship

The Life
Just Steel, Rebel Stakes, Stacy Coelho, Brian Coelho, John Bellinger, D. Wayne Lukas, Anne M. Eberhardt
From left to right: Stacy Coelho, Brian Coelho, John Bellinger, and D. Wayne Lukas at the 2022 Keeneland September yearling sale. (BloodHorse/Anne M. Eberhardt)

Tom Pedulla is interviewing prominent owners, trainers and jockeys as they travel the Road to the 150th Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve May 4 at Churchill Downs.

This season’s first installment features Brian Coelho, who co-owns Derby hopeful Just Steel with John Bellinger of BC Stables. Just Steel, a bay son of 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, drew post 11 in a field of 13 for Saturday’s $1.25 million Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. He is trained by legendary D. Wayne Lukas, 88, and will be ridden by Ramon Vazquez.

Just Steel will be making his third start this season after finishing second in both the Jan. 11 Smarty Jones Stakes and the Feb. 3 Southwest Stakes, both at Oaklawn. In his juvenile season, the $500,000 purchase at Keeneland’s 2022 September yearling sale broke his maiden at third asking and added a victory in the Nov. 25 Ed Brown Stakes at Churchill Downs to close the campaign.

The Rebel will award Derby qualifying points on a 50-25-15-10-5 basis. Just Steel is ranked 14th on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 15 qualifying points as he continues to work his way toward a berth in an expected full field of 20. He has a record of two wins, three seconds, and one third in nine career starts with $430,795 in earnings.

Coelho, 49, is president and chief executive officer of Central Valley Meat Company in Hanford, Calif. He discussed what it is like to work with Lukas, Just Steel’s progress and the colt’s Rebel prospects during a question-and-answer session conducted on behalf of America’s Best Racing.

PEDULLA: How long have you been involved in horse racing as an owner?

COELHO: About four years.

Just Steel, Ed Brown Stakes, Coady Photography
Just Steel winning Ed Brown Stakes. (Coady Photography)

PEDULLA: Were you a fan earlier in life or is this a recent development?

COELHO: I’ve always been a guy that’s had various different hobbies. I’ve always been more of a motorsports guy. I used to race cars. I decided to change things up a little bit. My good friend and partner, John Bellinger, we’ve been friends for a long time. Quite frankly, it was him and my wife [Stacy] who, for a few years, have been wanting to get a racehorse. They talked myself and John’s wife [Gina] into it. When I do things, I do it more than half-speed. I go into things with both feet.

PEDULLA: I guess part of the appeal is that this is something you can enjoy with your wives?

COELHO: As couples, we have different interests at times. This is one we can enjoy together, for sure. Both of our families are involved and it’s good time spent.

PEDULLA: You mentioned jumping into things with both feet. Just Steel was a $500,000 purchase at Keeneland’s September yearling sale. Were you involved in the purchase?

COELHO:  Yes, I was. One of the things I really enjoy about the sport is the buying. There are lots of yearlings to sift through and analyze. It’s exciting not only to study the pedigrees but look at the horses themselves. Going out there and buying the horses is part of the excitement.

PEDULLA: What impressed you that you would spend $500,000 on Just Steel?

COELHO: Beautiful colt. Great composition. Obviously, great pedigree. We took on a bit of risk. At that point, Justify’s [offspring] were new and unproven. We’re pretty excited about what we’re seeing in Just Steel and the other Justify’s out there.

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas (Coady Photography)

PEDULLA: Was Lukas involved in the purchase?

COELHO:  He was. He’s been a great mentor in racing the horses, selecting the horses. He’s been a great mentor guiding us along the path, for sure.

PEDULLA: He has so much experience and expertise. What is it like working with him?

COELHO:  Especially for somebody new to the industry, he has been wonderful to us. He spends time teaching and giving you an understanding of what is going on, what he is doing and his plans. He’s never short on information.

PEDULLA: How do you feel about Just Steel’s development?

COELHO:  That’s an interesting thing about horse racing. People forget that there is a development stage with these horses. I really feel very good about where he is at today. As a 2-year-old, he was not quite there yet. He’s got some development yet. He’s definitely not finished growing. We think he’s going to continue to develop in the next few months.

PEDULLA: Not every horse takes to the Churchill Downs surface. Is it encouraging to already have a win there?

COELHO: It’s a good thing to have, that the horse knows how to win on that track. 

PEDULLA: He’s been second in his two starts this year, both stakes races. Does that tell you he is improving?

COELHO: I think so. [Southwest winner] Mystik Dan got to the rail and the rail was a great spot on a rainy day. He needs to trim up a bit, continue to have good workouts and we’ll see.

PEDULLA: How excited are you for the Rebel?

COELHO: I’m pretty excited. Hopefully, we can get a good trip.

PEDULLA: You have a lot of starts compared with the rest of the field. Is that an advantage?

COELHO: I think that is an advantage with this horse. This horse likes to run. We would look at some of those races as training opportunities. Wayne has nothing to prove and he’s not afraid to run horses as he feels is best for the horses.

PEDULLA: Do you have Derby fever yet?

COELHO: I don’t like to get too excited too early. You never know what is going to happen. There are a lot of great horses out there. There is a lot to it and we’ll see.

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