By: Rob Longley for woodbine.com
TORONTO, February 23, 2018 – Before the era of super trainers, there was D. Wayne Lukas, the most accomplished conditioner in Triple Crown history.
So what a treat it is to see the 82-year-old Hall of Famer back in the big-time action with a pair of colts that are very much on the trail to the 144th Kentucky Derby.
At last week’s Risen Star Stakes in Louisiana, the Lukas-trained Bravazo prevailed at odds of 21-1 and the 50 points earned for that longshot score have him in the early lead with 54. The standings will fluctuate
wildly before the first Saturday in May, but this one is well on his way to a spot in the starting gate if Lukas desires.
And then there is arguably the stronger of his two candidates, Grade 1 winner Sporting Chance, who finished third in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn. While both of those two prep races are relatively minor stops on the road to the Derby, by hitting the board in each, Lukas’s presence is very real.
“He’s a fighter and he’s tough,” Lukas said of Bravazo. “He’s got real good tactical speed. He’s a horse who carries his weight very well and can withstand the training (it takes) up the the Kentucky Derby.”
If anyone would know, it’s Lukas. Though it’s been a while, the veteran has long been a mainstay at the Derby and has been a mentor to many accomplished trainers, most notably Todd Pletcher.
How big has Lukas been in the Derby picture in the past? In his career, he has saddled no less than 48 Derby entrants including four winners – Winning Colors (1988), Thunder Gulch (1995), Grindstone (1996) and Charismatic (1999.) Lukas also has one runner-up and five third-place Derby finishers from that bunch and in total has 14 wins in Triple Crown races.
Is he a favourite with either of the two colts mentioned? Certainly not. But having the living legend back in the running is a welcome addition to this year’s Derby picture.
We’re currently in a lull in prep race season, but once the calendar flips to March, business heats up noticeably. Several big-name trainers with big-intentioned runners are gearing up for races such as the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park on March 3 and then the March 10 tractor weekend, which boasts three significant tests – the Gotham at Aqueduct, the Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs and the San Felipe at Santa Anita Park.
One of these years, a foreign-based horse is going to contend in the U.S. Triple Crown, right? One of this year’s candidates is Japan-bred and based Sumahama, who captured the Hyacinth Stakes at Tokyo Racecourse this past week. That earned him the designated Japan Road to the Derby berth, a program established by Churchill Downs to encourage international growth in the race. There’s no guarantee Sumahama will make the long ship to Kentucky as he is currently not nominated to the Triple Crown.
LONGLEY’S TOP FIVE
1. Good Magic, trainer Chad Brown
The consensus No. 1 ranked colt in the eyes of many Derby observers is gearing up for a debut at the Fountain of Youth as his impressive morning activity on the work tab continues. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner will have just two three-year-old prep races under Brown’s watch.
2. McKinzie, trainer Bob Baffert
Like our boy Good Magic, McKinzie is gearing up for a March 10 return but will do so in Baffert’s home base of Santa Anita in the San Felipe. Of note, the Baffert barn is loaded and a top prospect in February is often replaced by another further down the shed row in March or April.
3. Bolt d’Oro, Mike Ruiz
Another headed for that big weekend in early March, he too is pegged for the San Vicente out in SoCal. Trip handicappers love this guy – the 8-1 favourite in the most recent Derby Future wager – after his woeful journey as one of the favourites in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
4. Audible, Todd Pletcher
As with many three-year-olds from the Pletcher barn, this one has to be approached with caution, even with that impressive winning romp in the Holy Bull. The distance limitations and Pletcher’s hesitancy to decide on a next start are small red flags.
5. Instilled Regard, Jerry Hollendorfer
Dropping two places this week after a disappointing effort behind two longshots in the Risen Star. Because it’s early, he gets enough of a pass to remain on the list but one more misstep on the road to the Louisiana Derby and he will tumble.
Follow Longley’s weekly column on woodbine.com chronicling the path to the Kentucky Derby, set for May 5 at Churchill Downs, and be sure to get your tickets to celebrate the first jewel of the U.S. Triple Crown with us at Woodbine’s exclusive Derby Day Party featuring fabulous food, fashion and entertainment in the Trackside Tent.