‘More Important Knowing What You Can’t Do’: Lukas Saddles 20th Travers Starter With Bravazo

by | 08.24.2018 | 6:00pm
Bravazo and D. Wayne Lukas during the Awesome Again colt's Triple Crown run last spring

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas will hit a milestone on Saturday when Bravazo becomes his 20th horse to compete in the Grade 1 Travers at Saratoga.

Through the Triple Crown trail and beyond, Bravazo has remained sound through his 12 career starts. The Awesome Again colt – the only active 3-year-old to have started in all three legs of the Triple Crown – will make his sixth Grade 1 appearance on Saturday.

The 82-year-old Lukas has been impressed with his colt's physical and mental demeanor.

“Well, if you go back in history books and look at Sunny [Jim] Fitzsimmons, and Max Hirsch, and those people, what I do with my horses, and what [trainer Bob] Baffert does with his, it's common practice,” Lukas said. “These things are bred to run. I mean the soundness issue is one thing, they have to be [sound]. Another really little-known fact is that we did a complete 100 percent ear-to-tail physical on [Bravazo] after the Triple Crown, and he was perfect. So, we were able to push right on to these next [races].”

Of the 4,807 lifetime victories that Lukas has enjoyed, nine of those were tallied by 1995 Travers winner and Eclipse Award Champion 3-Year-Old Colt Thunder Gulch, who rattled off seven wins from 10 starts at three.

Although Bravazo's lone graded stakes victory came in the Grade 2 Risen Star on February 17 at Fair Grounds Race Course, his ability to make it to the gate impresses Lukas, and reminds him of his former champ.

“The last one I did with that with was Thunder Gulch,” he said. “That was an amazing run. The Fountain of Youth, the Florida Derby, win both, then run in the Blue Grass, [he] didn't win it, but won the Derby, then third in the Preakness, won the Belmont, goes to California, wins the Swaps, wins the Travers. Nobody even thinks about doing that.

“[Bravazo] had two or three strong preps then the Triple Crown, Haskell and now this. All bases go like planned here, he'll be in the Pennsylvania Derby, too. Go to Kentucky, and then I'll follow him up myself.”

Bravazo is a dark horse among the field of 11 set to run in the 149th running of the Travers. At 12-1 on the morning line, Bravazo has the chance to pull off an upset at Saratoga, known as the Graveyard of Favorites.

The Wisconsin-born Lukas thrives at the challenge, playing the spoiler twice before. He won with Corporate Report ($16.60) in 1991, beating Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner and eventual Champion 3-Year-Old Colt Hansel by a neck. Twenty-two years later, Lukas sent out Will Take Charge ($21.20) to a nose victory over Moreno in the 2013 Travers.

Jockey Luis Saez, who rode Will Take Charge to that closing finish, will be aboard Bravazo.

“Luis, I think is getting a little better feel for what he can do with him, and what he can't do with him, that's probably a better way to put it,” said Lukas. “Like [retired NCAA basketball coach] Bob Knight said, 'It's always more important knowing what you can't do than knowing what you can do.'

“In the Haskell we shouldn't have let [Good Magic] get the first run. I'm not being overly critical, I just told Luis, you have one horse you had to worry about. In this race you've got to worry about five or six or seven. In the Haskell I felt comfortable that it was going to get down to [Bravazo and Good Magic]. [Good Magic] got the first run off the turn, and you've got to work for position. I'd rather go head to head with him at the eighth pole and let him beat us.”

Trigger Warning shipped in well to Saratoga and is ready to make an upset bid in Saturday's Grade 1 Travers, trainer Mike Rone said Friday morning.

Walking Trigger Warning outside of Barn 14 on Saratoga's backside, Rone said the Candy Ride colt, who drew post 1 in the 11-horse field, shipped in well from Thistledown, Ohio to the Spa. At 30-1 on the morning-line, Trigger Warning is the co-longest shot on the board alongside Meistermind.

“You have to make every step count; he drew the 1 hole, but you don't want to get in trouble and get covered up down there on the fence,” Rone said. “I don't want to get covered up by the half the field, but I don't want to be left out to dry, either. But this horse has done what we've asked of him. He'll rate; he'll do anything we ask. He can go to the front or he can come from off of it.”

Trigger Warning won his first stakes in the six-furlong Tom Ridge on May 21. Rone then stretched out the Kentucky-bred, owned by Brinley Enterprises, and he responded by running third in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby at 1 1/8 miles on June 23 at Thistledown and second by a head to Axelrod in the Grade 3 Indiana Derby last out on July 14 at Indiana Grand Race Course, earning a personal-best 94 Beyer Speed Figure for the 1 1/16-mile race.

The Travers will mark the first time Trigger Warning has run at 1 ¼ miles. Should Trigger Warning win at odds of 30-1 or higher, he would be the highest payoff in a Travers field since the advent of pari-mutuel wagering in New York in 1940. Adonis ($53.50) in 1945 was the highest Travers payout under that format, while Jim Dandy's 1930 Travers win at 100-1 represents the Mid-Summer Derby's most stunning upset in 148 previous editions.

But Saratoga is known as the “Graveyard of Favorites” where favorites have historically struggled. Can that play into Trigger Warning's favor?

“You bet,” Rone said with a laugh.

The Travers is also a milestone for Rone, a former blacksmith who won his first race as a trainer in 2006 and will now be saddling his first-ever horse at historic Saratoga Race Course.

“This is the greatest show on earth as far as I'm concerned; it's very inspirational,” Rone said. “Everyone has treated us great. This is why you go into the business.”

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