Training legend D. Wayne Lukas wasn't joking when he quipped recently that he is hoping to find a good 3-year-old in his barn to put on the Triple Crown trail. Lukas knows that's possible. A year ago, he discovered Bravazo, who competed in big event after big event throughout the season and will start in Saturday's $9-million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) at Gulfstream Park.
Bravazo went to the post 11 times in 2018 – the most of any of the Pegasus runners – and was the only horse besides Triple Crown winner Justify to run in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. The Calumet Farm homebred raced all summer and fall for the 83-year-old Hall of Fame trainer.
“He made every dance and really represented us very well,” Lukas said.
Though he was competitive in most of those outings, Bravazo is winless in his last nine starts, eight of them Grade 1 races. Five times he finished in the top three, which helped him earn $1.162 million.
Three times he was second, including in the foggy Preakness (G1) when he ended up a half-length back, the closest any horse finished to Justify in the Triple Crown; and he was second by a neck in his most recent start, the Clark Handicap (G1) on November 23 at Churchill Downs.
“He should have won both of those two,” Lukas said.
Bravazo has prepped for the Pegasus at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., and was shipped by truck to South Florida. Lukas was along for the ride and said his Awesome Again colt is ready for the next challenge in the Pegasus, facing the likes of Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) winner Accelerate and Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1) winner City of Light.
“We came out of the Clark in grand order and the horse has trained beautifully since,” Lukas said. “Horses by that sire get better in their 4- and 5-year-old years. Calumet is committed to running him all this year, even next year. So we're looking for that maturity factor to move us ahead. We're only a half-length off of being as good as any of them.”
When the 2018 Pegasus was run, Bravazo had two wins in six starts but had hit the board in a couple of stakes. Still, Lukas said that he did not consider the colt to be the hardy major-race prospect that he has become.
“I think I did a hell of a job,” Lukas said, laughing heartily. “He didn't make me think that he would make every dance, all those Grade 1s and run as well as he did.
“Every time I went to his stall and took him out on the racetrack he surprised me. Every day I would say, 'This son of a gun is OK; he tries every time,' Lukas said. “He's the only horse in America that made every dance. After the Breeders' Cup, 99 out of 100 people would have stopped and we went right into the Clark.”
Bravazo was third in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, 5¼ lengths behind City of Light, who is expected to be one of the favorites in the Pegasus. Twenty days later at Churchill Downs he made a run in the stretch of the Clark, but had to settle for another runner-up finish. His 2018 campaign stretched 315 days and involved races at eight tracks in nine different months.
“If you tell that to your client beforehand they're going to fire you,” Lukas joked.
Jockey Luis Saez, the leading rider at Gulfstream Park's Championship Meet the past two years, will be back aboard Bravazo in the Pegasus. Saez was up for the Preakness, his second in the Haskell Invitational (G1) and his third in the Travers (G1).
Lukas, as usual, is upbeat and positive about Bravazo's chances in the Pegasus.
“I think he will represent us very well. He's going to make the race very interesting,” Lukas said.
“In order to have a great Pegasus we need those kind of horses in there, the competitive ones. I think we've got a great little bunch of horses coming together,” he added. Obviously, you have to look at Accelerate as the favorite, but you can't mail them in. Everybody has to go in the gate and see what happens.”
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