The Breeders’ Cup Forum: The World According to Wayne
In the immediate afterglow of his Preakness victory on Saturday with Calumet Farm’s Oxbow, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas spoke during the post-race press conference on a range of issues, from the difficulty of a modern-day horse winning the Triple Crown to his development of top-level assistant trainers. Following is an edited transcript from that press conference.
Why is it so difficult for horses racing today to win the Triple Crown?
Well, it’s getting tougher, because we’re getting larger fields and the preparations leading up to these classics are so much tougher now. Back in the ’50s, when it was eight, nine head in the Derby and so forth, it wasn’t so hard to maybe come in.
In all fairness to the horses that were in the Derby, they came up in a hard 20 horse field in the off going, and then to come back here in two weeks, that makes it tougher. If they can run in six- or eight head fields or 10 horse fields in the Derby and then roll in here, it’s going to make it easier. So it’s going to be tougher all the time.
On going 12 years since his last Triple Crown race victory and how the Preakness win feels.
The thing about it is you get up every day and look for that one that maybe can do something. But as long as we’ve got something to work with, we’re going to be around.
I think that we’re not through by a long way here. I feel like we can get up and maybe get another one someplace down the line. But that’s what makes it so interesting. You have to have a passion for it. It’s not a 9:00 to 5:00 job. I ran last in the first horse I started (Preakness day). The second one doesn’t even finish the race. How is that to start your day? Then all of a sudden, I won a grass race (the Dixie, with Skyring) and I win the Preakness. What a roller coaster. I mean, that is the nature of our game.
On how he views his overall career success and what keeps him going at age 77.
Well, I enjoy it so much. I don’t wake up every day trying to prove I can train a race horse anymore. When you’re younger, you keep trying to prove yourself in this industry. But at this point in my career, I’m very comfortable with where we’re at. I don’t wake up and say, ‘Gosh, I’ve got something to prove to you all that I can train a race horse.’ I do it for the personal satisfaction of working with the horses and developing some young assistants.
We’ve still got some guys coming through the ranks, and it’s just a wonderful lifestyle. I mean, where in the hell can you get paid to ride out there. I ride on my saddle horse in beautiful weather four hours in the morning, go to the turf club, have lunch? Deal with great people. I mean, is this a great country or what?
On the significance of passing Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons to become the all-time leader in Triple Crown race wins, with 14.
Well, I shared that record with a very special man in this industry in Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons. And if I never broke it, I was proud of that. I know he meant so much to the thoroughbred industry. I never knew him personally, but I thought that that was something I’m really proud of. I don’t have it documented anywhere. You guys reminded me of it all week.
Was Bob Baffert right in saying Lukas would enjoy this win more than his first Triple Crown race win with Codex in 1980 Preakness?
Yes, yes, definitely. At 77, I do, yes. The first one I thought I was going to win quite a few more. I won the first Classic I ever ran in with Codex right here. I told my son, ‘This is no big deal. We’ll win a bunch of these.’ And then I went years before I got another one. Bob’s a good friend, and it meant a lot to me to have him come down all the way from where he was and congratulate me. I called him this week at home. He was on the fence maybe he’d even run here. And I said, ‘Bob, get on an airplane and come back. You need to be here. We’ll have some fun.’
So what does he do? He comes back, wins the Black Eyed Susan, wins the Sprint. He didn’t get this one, but he had a hell of a day.
On his reputation for recruiting and mentoring top assistant trainers.
I get young guys that say, ‘I’ll do anything. I just want to be a part of it. I’ll clean stalls. I’ll wash pots, and I’ll get up and be right there.’ And I look at them and say, ‘We’ll test you on that.’ I would say they have to have a passion for it. It’s not a 9:00 to 5:00 job. The most important thing is to have a complete, unquestionable passion for the industry and what you want to do.
Then I tell them, don’t get married. You can have a trainer’s license or a marriage license. You can have one or another, but not both at the same time. Then dedicate yourself completely, completely to the game, and if you work, it will probably come. Treat your owners good, they’ll get you the horses.