There are very few things that D. Wayne Lukas has failed to accomplish during his distinguished career in American Thoroughbred racing.
There are very few things that D. Wayne Lukas has failed to accomplish during his distinguished career in American Thoroughbred racing. The Antigo, Wis., native is the leading trainer in Breeders' Cup history with 20 victories and more than $20 million in purses; surpassed "Sunny Jim" Fitzsimmons in 2013 for the most victories in the Triple Crown series, 14, four of them in the Kentucky Derby; was the first trainer to reach $100 million and $200 million in earnings; has trained 25 champions, three of them Horse of the Year (Lady's Secret in 1986, Criminal Type in 1990 and Charismatic in 1999); led North American trainers in earnings 14 times; and was elected to the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame in 1999.
Lukas earned a master's degree in education at the University of Wisconsin, where he worked as an assistant basketball coach for two years. He became a teacher and head basketball coach in high school for nine years, including a seven-year stint in LaCrosse, Wis. During the summers, he trained and raced horses in South Dakota before turning to training Quarter Horses full time. He trained some Thoroughbreds during the years he was principally involved with Quarter Horses. Before turning to Thoroughbreds in 1978, he developed 23 Quarter Horse champions.
Along with his remarkable success at the races, Lukas has been known for the many fine young assistant trainers he has mentored and have gone on to become great successes in their own right: Todd Pletcher, Kiaran McLaughlin, Dallas Stewart, Mark Hennig, Randy Bradshaw, Mike Maker, George Weaver and Bobby Barnett.
He won the 2012 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint with Hightail to extend his record-setting mark to 19 wins in the championship event. In 2013, Lukas qualified two horses for the Kentucky Derby and had a 1-2 finish in the Rebel Stakes with Will Take Charge and Oxbow. After finishing eighth and sixth respectively, Lukas campaigned both horses in the Preakness Stakes, where Oxbow proved a huge upset when he crossed the finish first. Lukas sent both horses to the Belmont Stakes from there, finishing second in the race with Oxbow.
At the end of the year, D. Wayne Lukas was awarded an Eclipse Award of Merit while his trainee Will Take Charge won champion 3-year-old honors after an amazing fall campaign.
Lukas won his 20th Breeders' Cup race with Take Charge Brandi in the 2014 Juvenile Fillies and she became his 25th Eclipse Award winner when she took home the award as 2014 champion 2-year-old filly.
During the late 2000s, Lukas continued to train and also serve as one of the sport’s most welcoming and gregarious ambassadors. His best runner from this period, Bravazo, finished second to Triple Crown winner Justify in the 2018 Preakness Stakes.
Lukas fell ill with COVID-19 during 2020 but recovered, and by 2022 was back in the headlines at age 86 via multiple stakes-winning filly Secret Oath. She won two stakes races during the spring Oaklawn Park meet and then ran third against males in the Arkansas Derby before giving “The Coach” a record-tying fifth win in the Longines Kentucky Oaks, and first since 1990.
While in college often performed at county fairs doing trick riding for extra money
Compiled 44-95 record as coach of Logan High School boys basketball team in LaCrosse, Wisc.
0-for-12: Lukas’ much-publicized record with Kentucky Derby starters until he won with Winning Colors in 1988
Six in a row: the record string of consecutive U.S. classic wins for Lukas that stretched from the 1994 Preakness Stakes through the 1996 Kentucky Derby
Record 20 victories in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, including 12 with 2-year-olds
Trainer of 23 Quarter-Horse champions and 25 Thoroughbred champions, including 1986 Horse of the year Lady’s Secret, 1990 Horse of the Year Criminal type and 1999 Horse of the Year Charismatic
Winner of record 14 classic races, one more than James “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons