Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas could be forgiven if he made some concessions to age. He is 83, after all, and at a stage in his life when it would be totally understandable if he retired or at least eased up on the accelerator.
There is no sign that he will either walk away or go at anything but top speed.
“I don’t buy into the fact that I am old,” said Lukas.
When Bravazo needed to be shipped from his base at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., to Gulfstream Park for the $9 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on Saturday, the octogenarian trainer knocked out the van ride of nearly 24 hours.
“People make a lot of that, but I climb up in there and go,” Lukas said. “No big deal.”
Not surprisingly, Lukas is a fan of the Toby Keith song, “Don’t Let the Old Man In.”
There is no way Lukas is letting the old man in. He is too busy promoting a book he co-authored with Christina Bossinakis entitled, “Sermon on the Mount: The Wisdom and Life Experiences of Hall of Fame Trainer D. Wayne Lukas.” The foreword was written by Bill Parcells, a Hall of Fame pro football coach and long-time Thoroughbred owner.
Lukas’s stable keeps him getting up early every morning, eager to add to a legendary career that includes more than 4,800 victories, 26 Eclipse Award champions and five individual Eclipse Awards, four of those as North America’s leading trainer.
Bravazo and Lukas make a fine match, for the colt is as enthusiastic as his trainer in his work. He made 11 starts last year – more than any other starter in the 12-horse Pegasus field – and knocked out one major race after another.
He started with an allowance at Oaklawn, then it was on to Fair Grounds for the Risen Star and the Louisiana Derby, then the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes, then the Haskell Invitational, Travers, Pennsylvania Derby, Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, and, finally, the Clark Handicap.
In all, the gritty son of Awesome Again, bred and owned by Calumet Farm, visited eight tracks and earned more than $1.1 million with two victories, three runner-up finishes and two thirds in some of the saltiest races available.
Bravazo came closest to overtaking eventual Triple Crown champion Justify, emerging from the mud and fog at Pimlico Race Course with a determined rally for jockey Luis Saez that missed by half a length in the Preakness.
Lukas, winner of 14 Triple Crown races, suggests the middle jewel of the Triple Crown was one that got away.
“He was unlucky to lose the Preakness. He had that horse measured and we just waited too long to make our move,” Lukas said. “If we started a little earlier, I really believe in my heart we would have won that.”
Bravazo also took second in the Haskell at New Jersey’s Monmouth Park and in the Clark Handicap. The latter, on Nov. 23 at Churchill Downs, represents his most recent start. He ran third in the Travers at Saratoga Race Course and again in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Churchill Downs. In other words, wherever he traveled, he always packed his race with him and quickly signaled he was ready for more.
“He’s just tough,” Lukas said. “If I didn’t have this race in front of me, I’d probably be looking for something else.”
Bravazo drew the rail and will again have Saez aboard. He is listed at 12-1 on the morning line for the richest race in North America as part of a field headed by favored Accelerate, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and second choice City of Light, coming off his triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
Despite so many valiant performances, Bravazo is bidding to end a nine-race losing streak.
“I’m realistic. I don’t have any grandiose idea that I’m on top of the world anymore,” Lukas said. “But I do have the experience of watching a lot of nice horses, and he is a nice horse.”
Lukas is banking on his wealth of experience compared to his counterparts to help make a difference in the 1 1/8-mile Pegasus.
“We’ll find out about some of these younger guys,” he said. “Can they take a two- or three-month break with a horse and come back in a Grade 1 this tough?”
Lukas remains as feisty and ultra-competitive as ever. No way is he letting the old man in.