Mystery man in Armani finds Lukas, Burrells are well-suited

Ken Rosenthal

May 13, 1992|By Ken Rosenthal

It's Hammer Time at the Preakness, and for this blessed event the racing world is forever indebted to a man named Lance.

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas doesn't know his last name. All he can recall is Lance strolling toward him at Santa Anita Park, resplendent in an expensive Armani suit.

In his previous life, Lance was a scruffy kid who hung around the track when Lukas trained quarter horses in northern California during the late '70s.

But on this fine day in March of 1991, he was the dapper go-between who arranged perhaps the most bizarre marriage in entertainment history, the one joining rap music and horse racing.

When Lance reintroduced himself at Santa Anita, Lukas took one look at his former hotwalker and couldn't believe his eyes.

"Damn, Lance, what did you do, hit the lottery?" he said.

Little did Lukas know this impromptu meeting would lead to his training of Dance Floor, the third-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby and a leading contender in Saturday's 117th Preakness Stakes.

"I've made some friends, got some work, done some odd jobs," Lance replied.

Lukas nodded. "What brings you to Santa Anita?" he asked.

Lance could contain himself no longer:

"I know some people who want to buy a Derby horse."

Remember, this was March of '91, two months before the Derby.

Needless to say, Lukas was rather amused.

"You got one in mind?" he asked Lance.

Lance said, why yes, as a matter of fact, he did.

And that his friends were willing to spend $1.5 million.

At that point, Lukas went to meet Lance's friends, the Burrells -- Lewis Sr., Louis Jr. and Christopher.

The Hammer family.

Lewis is the father, Louis and Christopher the brothers. Stanley Burrell -- also known as Hammer -- was not present. But eventually, of course, Lukas would meet him too.

Lukas talked the Burrells out of buying a Derby horse at such a late date. "It would be like signing Joe Montana," he explained. "It would cost you an arm and leg."

Instead, he convinced them to purchase three 2-year-olds and one older horse.

The older horse was Lite Light. The Burrells, operating as Oaktown Stable, bought her for a reported $1.2 million just before she won the Santa Anita Oaks on March 16, 1991. Two months later, she won the Kentucky Oaks by 10 lengths in stakes-record time.

The 2-year-olds were named -- what else? -- Dance Floor, Rap Master and Hammer Man. Dance Floor, a $130,000 purchase, is by far the most successful. He has finished in the money nine times in 12 starts. His lifetime earnings stand at $713,859.

Of course, Lukas wasn't sold on the Burrells right away. Thorough horseman that he is, he did his homework.

"If you're going to research a rap star, you go ask your 14-year-old daughter," Lukas said. "Her comment was, 'Where you been, in a freezer?' "

"I started watching VH-1 to kind of see where the hell we were at," Lukas said. "I told him right out, 'I'm a Willie Nelson man myself.' "

Lukas, though, didn't meet Hammer -- then M.C. Hammer -- until one of the Oaktown horses ran a maiden race at Hollywood Park.

The race was the third on the program.

You would have thought it was the Derby.

"He drew about 7,000 people to the paddock," Lukas said. "It was complete chaos. He disrupted the whole race. People were crowding, screaming, hollering.

"Of course, he plays it up pretty good."

Baltimore discovered that today, when Hammer appeared in the Pimlico infield to conduct a dance clinic before his concert tonight at the Baltimore Arena.

Don't be fooled, though.

Hammer knows his racing.

The Burrells, Lukas said, are "excellent handicappers. They read the [Daily Racing] Form well. They understand the game well. They grew up at the racetrack, the whole family."

Oh yes, they also like to bet.

Before the Hollywood Futurity, Lukas was being interviewed on television by Dave Johnson.

"I see by the toteboard you're second choice," Johnson said.

"Wait until my guys get to the fourth floor," Lukas replied.

Sure enough, Dance Floor went off as the 3-1 favorite, only to finish second by a neck to A.P. Indy.

Now Dance Floor is boogeying toward the Preakness.

Whatever became of Lance?

Lukas shrugged.

"He's long gone."

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