Oxbow Confirmed for Belmont; Preakness Runners Doing Well Sunday
Back in the 1980’s and ‘90s when trainer D. Wayne Lukas was winning Triple Crown races with astonishing regularity, the catch-phrase “D. Wayne off the plane” followed him from track to track as he made his hit-and-run assaults on racetracks across America with a lineup of assistants that included Todd Pletcher, Mark Hennig, Kiaran McLaughlin and Dallas Stewart.
The glory days of Lukas had seemingly subsided in the new millennium with the passing of wealthy clients like Eugene Klein, W. T. Young and Bob Lewis. In recent years, Lukas had geared down his operation and had become more of a fringe player on racing’s biggest stage.
That all changed Saturday when the 77-year-old Hall of Famer saddled his record-14th Triple Crown race winner, Oxbow, for the 138th Preakness for legendary Calumet Farm, which had similarly faded from the forefront of major thoroughbred racing,
It was the first spring classic winner for Lukas since Commendable took the Belmont Stakes in 2000, and the Preakness score by Oxbow ended a drought in the classics for Calumet dating all the way back to Forward Pass’s victory in the 1968 Preakness.
Lukas and his nine-horse contingent, that also included Dixie upsetter Skyring and his personal pony, were on the highway before dawn Sunday morning, heading back to their home base at Churchill Downs. Then it’s on to the Belmont Stakes in three weeks with Oxbow and possibly seventh-place finisher Will Take Charge. Titletown Five, Lukas’ third Preakness entrant who finished last, will run in shorter races for the rest of his 3-year-old campaign.
“I’ve always rode with the horses all my career,” said Lukas, who now has six Preakness winners, one behind Robert Walden for the all-time record in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown. “I used to go on the airplanes and stand there with them all the time. We don’t fly much anymore.”
He’s “the man on the van” these days, having ridden in a pickup truck for more than 12 hours to Pimlico on Tuesday and scheduled to follow the same routine back home Sunday.
“I’ll get him home at feeding time just about,” Lukas said. “By the time I get him home and give him a bath it’ll be right about 5 o’clock. They put a bucket seat where I ride on kind of an air-ride slide thing. It’s like riding in a boat somewhere on the waves.”
This Preakness was a serious helping of history for the connections of the winner. In addition to Lukas and Calumet, jockey Gary Stevens capped an unlikely comeback at age 50 by winning his third Preakness (Silver Charm and Point Given).
Last year at this time, Stevens was working in Baltimore as a TV analyst for NBC and HRTV. Lukas said all week he was thrilled to have the Hall of Famer aboard Oxbow and was encouraged by his Derby performance.
“He’s so on top of all this stuff,” Lukas said. “He’ll tell you the fractions, who was laying fourth on the backside and everything. He’s very into this, very into this.”
Oxbow, a son of Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Awesome Again, is Lukas’ first Preakness winner since Charismatic in 1999. His other Preakness winners were Timber Country (1995), Tabasco Cat (1994), Tank’s Prospect (1985) and Codex in 1980.
Over those glory days, there was a sometimes not-so-friendly rivalry with colleague Bob Baffert, who saddled Govenor Charlie to a disappointing eighth-place finish Saturday. It was Baffert’s 14th Preakness starter (five winners), well behind Lukas’ record total of 40.
“Over the years a lot of people thought that Baffert and I had a rivalry, when actually we come from pretty similar backgrounds and we’re pretty good friends,” Lukas said. “It was really significant yesterday when he came down and congratulated me right after the race. A mutual friend of ours said that when his horse didn’t look like he was getting it done at the half-mile pole, Bob and a friend were jumping up and down and saying: ‘Go get ‘em, Lukey.’ “
Lukas said almost immediately after the Preakness that he hoped to try Oxbow in the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes.
“I was trying to be politically correct all week, but I thought (Oxbow) was the toughest horse. I thought if there was some adversity or something went wrong, he had the best chance to overcome,” Lukas said. “Will Take Charge is so big that he has to get a clear run. He can’t check, stop, take a bump or anything. The other horse (Titletown Five) we knew was going to need a career quantum leap forward.”
ORB – Kentucky Derby hero Orb boarded a van bound for New York at 7 o’clock Sunday morning, showing no ill effects from Saturday’s disappointing fourth-place finish in the Preakness.
“He came out of it fine. He’s sound. Physically, everything is fine,” trainer Shug McGaughey said. “We’ll get him up the road and evaluate the situation to see where we’ll go.”
McGaughey didn’t have a concrete explanation for Orb’s surprisingly dull performance as the 3-5 favorite that followed a sharp, dominating 2 ½-length victory two weeks earlier at Churchill Downs.
“The racetrack was probably deep down the inside there. There was a lot of throwback. We couldn’t get to the outside. I thought he was in good position and he took him to the right position, and all of a sudden he had no horse. Why that was, I don’t know,” the Hall of Fame trainer said. “I think it wasn’t our day and it was Oxbow’s day.”
Saturday’s disappointment in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown only made McGaughey appreciate the Derby victory even more.
“Winning the Derby was my lifelong dream. We won it. I would have loved to win (Saturday) to take it to the next level, so I do appreciate how tough it is,” McGaughey said. “If I have the opportunity again (to compete in the Derby), I may cherish it even more, because I’ve seen how tough it is to get it done. Maybe, I do appreciate how tough it is to win more. As brilliant as we were two weeks ago, we weren’t as brilliant yesterday.”
McGaughey will monitor Stuart Janney III and Phipps Stable’s homebred colt’s training at Belmont Park before deciding his status for the Belmont Stakes (G1) on June 8.
“I want to see him bounce back and see his soundness level and his energy level,” he said. “I think there are a lot of good wins down the road for him.”
ITSMYLUCKYDAY – Trilogy Stable and Laurie Plesa’s Itsmyluckyday looked bright Sunday morning, earning high marks from trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. for the manner in which he exited his second-place finish behind Oxbow in Saturday’s Preakness.
“On a 1-to-10 scale, 10-plus,” Plesa said.
Itsmyluckyday, who had finished 15th over the sloppy Churchill Downs track in the Kentucky Derby, rebounded with a strong showing at Pimlico. The son of Lawyer Ron, who was forwardly placed in fourth as Oxbow set a comfortable pace along the backstretch, kicked in through the stretch but could get no closer than 1 ¾ lengths of D. Wayne Lukas’ sixth Preakness winner.
“I wouldn’t take anything away from Wayne’s horse, but they went the half in 48-and-change. That’s pretty much walking. Did that help his horse? Absolutely. Did it hurt my horse? Absolutely,” Plesa said. “I won’t say anything other than: ‘I wish the pace would have been quicker.’”
Plesa said Itsmyluckyday’s dismal Derby showing did nothing to undermine his confidence in his colt’s abilities, but he was happy that the Florida-bred got a chance to prove his critics wrong.
“Everybody was throwing him out because he couldn’t get the distance and he ran a lousy race. I hate to use slop as an excuse, but it was a valid excuse. We all knew that,” Plesa said. “Not for us, but for other people, it validates his ability.
That’s not a bad thing. They’re like your children. You don’t like to read something bad about your children. We know what we have. He’s an exceptional horse; there’s no doubt about it.”
A start in the Belmont Stakes is far from a definite for the Gulfstream Park Derby and Holy Bull (G3) winner.
“It’s 50-50 at best,” Plesa said.
Itsmyluckyday, who was scheduled to ship to Monmouth Park Sunday, is a far more definite candidate to run in the Haskell Invitational at the New Jersey track on July 28.
“The Haskell is on my list. God willing, that’s a certainty,” Plesa said.
MYLUTE – Fourteen hours after his colt finished third in the Preakness, trainer Tom Amoss said Sunday that he was even more impressed with the performance than he was Saturday.
“Upon reflection, I think my horse ran the best race of his career,” Amoss said. “The slow pace was impossible for us to overcome and yet he still ran a very good race. I don’t know where the rest of the speed went in yesterday’s Preakness. It looked like there was quite a bit on paper, but it just didn’t materialize.”
Amoss said the son of Midnight Lute owned by GoldMark Farm and Whisper Hill Farm has earned a little bit of time off.
“As far as future plans, nothing is on the board right now,” he said. “I’ll get together with the owners at the beginning of the week and we’ll discuss what to do. He’s had two races close together and I think that’s going to be taken into account when we have that conversation.”
And Amoss saluted the winning trainer and jockey combination of Hall of Famers D. Wayne Lukas and Gary Stevens. Lukas, 77, won his record 14th Triple Crown race and Stevens, 50, earned his third Preakness just a few months after ending a seven-year retirement.
“It was a masterful job,” Amoss said. “As far as Wayne is concerned, you’ve got to tip your hat to him. Over the last year he’s made a remarkable comeback and put himself where he used to be, which is at the top of the trainers’ charts.”
GOLDENCENTS – Trainer Doug O’Neill and his fifth-place Preakness finisher Goldencents will not be going on to Belmont Park for the Belmont Stakes as originally planned. Team O’Neill and the colt departed early Sunday morning to return to Southern California.
“It doesn’t make sense to go on to the Belmont,” O’Neill said. “We had talked prior (to the Preakness) that if we didn’t run huge and came out of it great, we wouldn’t come back in three weeks. Even though I’m very proud of him and the way Kevin (Krigger) rode him, I just don’t think coming back in three weeks off that effort is the right move.”
Last year, O’Neill left Pimlico looking for a sweep to the Triple Crown with I’ll Have Another, who had followed up his Kentucky Derby win with a score in the Preakness. He would never get the opportunity when the son of Flower Alley came down with a leg injury that forced him to be scratched the day before the Belmont Stakes.
Goldencents, a three-time stakes winner going into this year’s Kentucky Derby, was a dismal 17th at Churchill Downs, but O’Neill believed the sloppy, sealed race track was largely responsible for that. He admitted the son of Into Mischief simply couldn’t keep up with Preakness winner Oxbow after briefly heading him coming out of the gate on Saturday.
“We’ll relax and see what’s in the cards five, six, seven weeks down the road,” O’Neill said. “You’ve got the 3-year-old series on the turf down at Del Mar, so we could possibly try a different surface with him.
“Or we could go over him good, train him out there and then look for races like the Haskell or Travers somewhere down the road. We’ll huddle up with the owners and put together a game plan. He’s a good horse. You’ll be hearing from him.”
DEPARTING – Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider’s War Front gelding was shipped back to Kentucky Sunday morning following his sixth-place finish in the Preakness.
“He’s fine, but he cooled out very tired,” trainer Al Stall said.
Stall said he had not talked with the owners about future plans for Departing, but that he would not be participating in the Belmont Stakes.
GOVENOR CHARLIE – Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert reported Sunday that the eighth-place finisher came out of the race in good shape and was being shipped back to California with stablemate Fiftyshadesofhay, the winner of the Black-Eyed Susan (G2).