Tom Pedulla is interviewing prominent racing personalities for America’s Best Racing as they travel the Road to the Kentucky Derby on May 5 at Churchill Downs.
He opens this year’s series by talking to Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who owns a record 14 Triple Crown wins. That includes four Kentucky Derby triumphs: Winning Colors (1988), Thunder Gulch (1995), Grindstone (1996), and Charismatic (1999).
Lukas, 82, is back in the fray with two legitimate prospects in Bravazo and Sporting Chance. Bravazo, sent off at 21-1, gutted out a nose victory against Snapper Sinclair in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes presented by Lamarque Ford at a mile and a sixteenth last Saturday at Fair Grounds in New Orleans. He already owns a victory at Churchill Downs, breaking his maiden there at one mile last September.
Sporting Chance, winner of the seven-furlong Hopeful Stakes last September at Saratoga Race Course, is returning to form after knee chip surgery. He took third in the Southwest Stakes last Monday at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., in a mile-and-a-sixteenth race he should be able to build on.
PEDULLA: Bravazo surprised many people last weekend. Did he surprise you?
LUKAS: Not really. At this time of year, when you go into these prep races they come from everywhere, so it’s hard to evaluate the competition. But he had run a mile in 1:37 and change on opening week in Hot Springs. That was really a fast race. We expected a good effort. You never go in there cocky confident. But it was a great effort.
PEDULLA: He has a win at Churchill Downs. Is that aspect encouraging to you?
LUKAS: Yes. It’s okay. You like to see them over the surface before the big one.
PEDULLA: He also finished 10th at Churchill in the Kentucky Jockey Club. What went wrong that day?
LUKAS: I’ll take blame for that. I got creative. (Jockey) Jon Court and I decided we’d take him back and see how he ran that way. He didn’t like that at all.
PEDULLA: That race really sticks out as an aberration.
LUKAS: Bad training job there. I took him out of his style. I shouldn’t have done that.
PEDULLA: How does he want to run?
LUKAS: He likes to be up close, mid-pack or better. He doesn’t want to be too far back.
PEDULLA: How good is Bravazo?
LUKAS: I think we’ve got a pretty good horse. He has a nice pedigree for the distance. His pedigree tells you a mile and a quarter is very much within his grasp.
PEDULLA: What is your thought on the best way to get him to Churchill?
LUKAS: I think we’ll go back to Louisiana for the Louisiana Derby (on March 24). We’ve got five weeks from his last race to the Derby in Louisiana and then six weeks all the way to the Kentucky Derby. From a trainer’s standpoint, with a horse that has been as active as he has, that’s a real luxury.
PEDULLA: How is your other prospect, Sporting Chance, doing?
LUKAS: That’s a special horse. We only started training him in December. For him to run that kind of race in February, I thought that was significant. You put him on your radar screen. He’s going to make a lot of noise.
PEDULLA: What is next for him?
LUKAS: The Rebel (on March 17 at Oaklawn Park).
PEDULLA: What can you say about the surgery done on Sporting Chance?
LUKAS: He had a non-invasive chip in his knee. We took it out and started him back in December.
PEDULLA: Do you feel you have ample time with him?
LUKAS: Oh, yeah. He had that one out the other day. He’ll have two more. He’ll be plenty seasoned. He’s a very professional horse.
PEDULLA: Is Sporting Chance the better of your two hopes?
LUKAS: You can’t ask me that because they have different owners. I’m too politically correct to answer that.
PEDULLA: Fair enough. Lastly, you have so many Triple Crown wins. Is the hunger still there to build on it?
LUKAS: Even more. It would be fun for me at this stage of my career to get back in there. I’ve had a zillion calls from people saying it will be fun. Even my colleagues like Bob Baffert say ‘The Derby is not the same without you.’ Don’t worry about the intensity. It’s probably too much.