Kentucky Derby Trail Much More Interesting with D. Wayne Lukas

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas shakes hands with a well wisher in this Oaklawn Park file photo from Arkansas Derby day in 2014. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Welcome to another edition of America’s Best Racing’s Main Track.

Each week in this space we will spotlight the most meaningful story of the past seven days, detailing a story that will stand out because of its importance or perhaps the emotional response it will generate.

Looking ahead, if you believe there’s a story this week that should be featured in next week’s edition of the Main Track, let us know by tweeting it to @ABRLive using the hashtag #ABRMainTrack.

In this week’s feature we’ll look at Bob Baffert’s ability to see into the future.

Last month in this space, Baffert commented, “You got to have Wayne Lukas in the Kentucky Derby. It’s not the same without him.”

His words came after Lukas did a favor for Baffert. He volunteered to care for, and then saddle, Mourinho for Baffert in the Smarty Jones Stakes, and did his job pretty well, as reflected in Mourinho’s 3 ¼-length victory.

Afterward, Baffert expressed his gratitude for Lukas’ help and voiced a hope that the sport’s living legend could make it back to the run for the roses with his own horse.

Bravazo, #7, won the Risen Star for Lukas. (Eclipse Sportswire)

On Saturday, it might have happened.

In a head-bobbing finish between two longshots in the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford at Fair Grounds, it was the Lukas-trained Bravazo at 21-1 who put his nose down first under jockey Miguel Mena and prevailed by a few inches over 41-1 shot Snapper Sinclair.

“I didn’t know it was that close,” Lukas said.

What Lukas did know was the Risen Star was worth 50 points in the Road to the Kentucky Derby point series, a jackpot that virtually assures Bravazo of a spot in the field of 20 on the first Saturday in May.

He’s hardly the best 3-year-old in the country – he’s won only three of seven starts – but his victory gave him a total of 54 points and for now puts him in the No. 1 spot atop the point standings.

Owned and bred by the famed Calumet Farm, Bravazo will have to race one more time before the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve and a poor effort could sidetrack Triple Crown plans. Yet given the way Lukas is typically unswayed by the odds against him, if Bravazo remains sound, it seems highly likely that he’ll be racing in the Derby. And that means the 82-year-old Lukas, with four Kentucky Derby wins to his credit in 48 tries, will be returning to America’s most famous race for the first time since 2015, when he sent out Mr. Z for Zayat Stables, which just so happened to win the Derby and the Triple Crown with their “other” entrant, American Pharoah.

Lukas is certainly talking that way.

“[Mena] was getting into him pretty good and he drifted out. That cost us a little bit. He’s a fighter. He’s tough. He’s got real good tactical speed. He’s a horse that carries his weight well and can withstand training up to the Kentucky Derby,” Lukas said. “We’ll get him back here with me, and if everything checks out and goes right then I’m going to lock up Miguel Mena. I’ll pack him and the horse in Styrofoam and keep them under lock and key until the next race.”

The Hall of Fame trainer was not at Fair Grounds for the Risen Star because he remained at his Oaklawn base to send out the horse who was his leading Derby candidate before last weekend.

That horse, of course, is Grade 1 winner Sporting Chance, who ran in Monday’s Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park, making his first start since winning the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga in September.

He finished third in the Southwest, which served as a useful start to his 3-year-old season. But with only four points in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, he’ll most likely need a top-two finish in a major Derby prep to secure a spot in the field.

“Good effort,” Lukas said about Sporting Chance. “They came in on both sides and broke our momentum. Still came back to run third. Off a six-, seven-month layoff, I was very pleased.”

Judging by Lukas’ grand tradition in the Triple Crown, it could be dangerous to bet against “the Coach” having not just one but two starters in the Derby.

In either case, as the outlook for the 144th Derby begins to take shape, having the ageless D. Wayne Lukas in the mix should make it a livelier edition than usual.

Even Bob Baffert knows that.


Here’s some of the other noteworthy stories that made for a lively week in the U.S. Thoroughbred racing industry:

Bravazo scores the upset in Risen Star Stakes

My Boy Jack takes inside route to Southwest victory

Paved beats the boys in El Camino Real

Monomoy Girl jumps off the bench to win Rachel Alexandra

Ms Locust Point makes the grade in Barbara Fritchie

West Point’s Finley joins Water Hay Oats Alliance

Dylan Davis ties NYRA record with six-win day

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