Lukas: Good mix makes great race

The Inside Stuff

May 16, 1991|By Bill Tanton

D. Wayne Lukas, the most successful trainer in racing history, believes Saturday's 116th Preakness will be "a good race because it has the right blend."

Lukas, who will saddle Corporate Report in the $500,000-added Triple Crown race, says, "The Preakness has speed horses, closers, horses with strategic speed, fresh horses, horses coming off the greatest day of their lives, and horses that don't belong."

Which horses don't belong?

"No way I'll answer that," Lukas says with a smile. "The worst races are the ones where all the horses are the same, where they're all closers or they all have early speed. This race has the right blend."

Lukas enjoys holding mini-seminars at the Pimlico stakes barn. He loves to debunk myths -- and when he does it, people listen.

"People say [early] speed holds at Pimlico, but it doesn't," says Lukas, who sent Farma Way to a wire-to-wire victory in the $750,000 Pimlico Special last Saturday.

"You go back and check the charts for the last 115 years and you'll see that speed does not hold here. Speed horses win about 4 percent of the time.

"The worst thing you can do as a trainer is tell a rider to lay third behind two speed horses and then come on and win," Lukas says. "We win 1,000 races a year -- or close to it -- and we never tell a rider that.

"All you can do is get a horse mentally sharp and fit for that day and have an expert rider who knows his way around the track.

"You have to let a horse do his thing. These horses are bred to run. Let 'em run. When you have horses like these and expert riders you do less coaching. It's like the basketball coach [Lukas used to be one] who has great talent on his team. You do less coaching. You let 'em play."

* Ron McAnally, trainer of Olympio, did not run his horse in the Kentucky Derby, which was won by Strike the Gold. But he does have Olympio in the Preakness.

"The two weeks between the Derby and the Preakness is not enough time to get a horse ready," says McAnally, "and the horse sort of fits this type of track better.

"My horse is well rested now. He's got the gas back in the tank. The rest of 'em are on one-quarter full."

McAnally says he has never been able to run his horses with two weeks' rest. Lukas, he says, does that "better than anybody I know." McAnally points out that this will be the fourth race in two months for Lukas' Corporate Report.

"Every two weeks, that's hitting 'em pretty hard," says McAnally. "These horses are not machines. They're animals. The trouble is, the owners want to keep running 'em. An owner will win a race and he'll call the next morning and say, 'When's the next race?' "

McAnally says the Preakness is "a more realistic race" than the Derby. Says Ron: "At Kentucky, a lot of people get caught up in Derby fever and they enter horses that shouldn't be in there."

* Some of the best trained quadrapeds in the world are on the Pimlico grounds but there aren't many bipeds anywhere fitter than the track's president and chief executive officer -- Joseph A. De Francis.

De Francis works out at the gym every day and it shows. He's 5 feet 9, 150 pounds and has a 30-inch waist. But De Francis, 36, who succeeded his late father here after Frank De Francis' death in 1988, is fidgety these days.

"For these two weeks for the Pimlico Special and the Preakness," Joe says, "I'm here at the stakes barn at 6 or 6:30 in the morning and I don't get to work out. I'd go to the gym at 4 a.m. but it's not open."

* People at Pimlico were surprised, even disappointed, that Queen Elizabeth II, a renowned horsewoman, would come to Baltimore on Preakness week and go to a ballgame.

No one in the cast of characters for this Preakness felt more that way than Best Pal's trainer, Ian Jory. He's a native Englishman, though he has been in this country for more than a decade.

"I thought she could at least come by and renew my passport," Jory said.

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