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At 88, Hall of Famer Lukas Remains One For the Ages

Octogenarian trainer sends out two starters in the $2 million Preakness Stakes.

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas at Pimlico Race Course

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas at Pimlico Race Course

Jerry Dzierwinski/Maryland Jockey Club

When there are conversations in horse racing that mention one for the ages, the one is surely trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

Forty-four years since he ran his first horse in the Preakness Stakes (G1)—and won with Codex—the energetic 88-year-old is back at Pimlico Race Course, targeting the middle jewel of the Triple Crown with not one but two entrants in Just Steel and Seize the Grey.

Both may be 15-1 longshots, but the fact that someone in his late 80's has produced grade 1-placed and grade 2 winning 3-year-olds will make them sentimental favorites at the very least for the May 18 classic.

"I enjoy training horses, and if you have a passion for something, you eliminate all the excuses for not doing it," Lukas said. 

Clearly age is just a number for Lukas, who last won the Preakness—his sixth—when he was a mere 77. Eleven years later, he may move a bit more slowly with the help of a walking stick, but in some regards he is just as sharp and spry as he was decades ago when he first became eligible for Social Security.

"I ride four to five hours a day on my horse. I never miss a day and I'll be 89 on Sept. 2," said Lukas, a 1998 Hall of Famer who has 4,929 wins (through May 13) and is fifth all-time in earnings with $295.5 million. "Some days that alarm clock pulls so hard in the morning, but I enjoy what I am doing so much. I'm pretty competitive by nature and I think I need something like this. If I wasn't doing this, I don't know what I would do. I would not be content."

Lukas provided the feel-good story at the 2022 Preakness, when he brought Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Secret Oath to Pimlico for a fourth-place finish against the boys. While Secret Oath, a $2.4 million earner, made Lukas relevant again with his first grade 1 win in five years, 2024 has been an even more successful year for his 40-horse stable.

For Lukas, who rewrote the American record book for stakes wins and earnings in the 1980s and 1990s, this year has produced his best set of results in decades. Making a case that the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) should be named after him, Lukas has won 16 of 113 starts (through May 13) with earnings of $2,649,425, a career-best $23,446 per start.

Beyond that, his 14% win rate is his best since 2002. His horses have been in the money 43% of the time, his top figure since 1998, when he also compiled a 43% mark.

And he's 88 years young, which warms the heart of his friend and fellow Hall of Famer, trainer Bob Baffert.

"I'm in awe of him, what he's doing. And he is still very competitive. And I enjoy talking to him, because he's so knowledgeable. I've always told him that the reason he was so successful, he's so overqualified to be a horse trainer. And he's got a master's or whatever, he's a coach, and that's why he's been so successful," said Baffert, who will send out Muth, the 8-5 favorite, and Imagination in the Preakness.

"But he's really been an inspiration. I mean, when I got in the Thoroughbred business, he was the bar. In any sport, there's the bar. If you're a quarterback, you want to be Tom Brady. And to me, (Lukas) was always the bar. He's still the bar for me."

Reflective of the enhanced overall depth of his stable, Lukas brought seven horses to Pimlico for the three days of racing. Included in the mix is Lemon Muffin, a grade 3 winner entered in the May 17 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (G2) for 3-year-old fillies who was eighth in the Kentucky Oaks (G1).

As Lukas sees it, adding owners willing to spend a million dollars or close to it at the sales sparked his renaissance.

"The thing about it is that you are only as strong as your clientele," Lukas said. "We had a very, very strong meet at Oaklawn Park (10th in the standings with 16 wins) with those lucrative purses. It's been a real good year. Now if we can top it off with a Preakness win, it would be great."

Seize the Grey, winner of the Pat Day Mile (G2) on the Kentucky Derby (G1) undercard, is owned by MyRacehorse, which has put the octogenarian into the modern world of microshare racing with hundreds of owners.

"They've done a beautiful job of keeping all the people at bay," Lukas said about the MyRacehorse management team. "But the people are very aware of what we are doing. I run into them at a restaurant and people will tell me they have a piece of my horse. He's chopped up pretty good."

BC Stables Steps up investment

John Bellinger and Brian Coelho of BC Stables and Henry Schmueckle own Just Steel, runner-up to Muth in the Arkansas Derby (G1) before chasing a fast pace and fading to 17th in the Kentucky Derby. They reflect Lukas' free-spending owners. The son of Triple Crown winner Justify  cost $500,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale.

"Our whole program is geared toward these type of races, the Triple Crown, the Breeders' Cup, and so forth. That's where our emphasis is all the time. We buy horses that we feel fit that mold and I try to develop them and try to get them there," Lukas said. "John and Brian have made a serious commitment. So, to get them to the Derby and Preakness is really great for them. I've been there. I've done it. I've experienced it and felt it. I'm trying to put them there."

Just Steel, Pimlico, May 14 2024
Photo: Jerry Dzierwinski/Maryland Jockey Club
Just Steel trains May 14 at Pimlico Race Course

Lukas bought Bourbon Bash in 2021 for $280,000 for BC and he has earned $510,294. On the flip side, they paid $1,150,000 for Tornado Road, a 3-year-old son of Quality Road , who is winless in six starts.

BC also owns Daily Grind, a $1,350,000 buy at The Saratoga Sale, Fasig-Tipton's New York Sale of Preferred Yearlings. The son of Medaglia d'Oro  is a maiden after nine starts but was second in his last two and is entered in Saturday's Sir Barton Stakes for 3-year-olds on the Preakness undercard.

"He may be a maiden, but the race is basically for non-winners of 2, so we'll take a shot," Lukas said.

Lukas also speaks highly of a group of 2-year-olds owned by BC and says he's eager to watch them next spring and fall when they mature into 3-year-olds. Yes, that's right. At the age of 88, when most elder statesmen consider tomorrow the future, D. Wayne Lukas is talking about the far-off days when he'll be 90.

He is indeed one for the ages.