Student comes back with Personal Hope Former Lukas aide bested the boss

April 28, 1993|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Could it be that D. Wayne Lukas is facing the prospect of growing old?

Lukas, 57, is running a horse in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday for the 13th straight year.

But, for the first time, he's playing second fiddle to a former assistant, Mark Hennig, half his age.

Lukas praises Hennig, 28, at every opportunity, but there still seems to be a bit of an edge to the relationship.

Hennig, often described as "a Lukas clone," worked for the trainer for four years and oversaw the outfit's recent Derby horses -- also-rans such as Houston, Land Rush, Corporate Report and Dance Floor. Hennig came on board the year after Lukas won the Derby with Winning Colors in 1988.

Now, less than a year after Hennig took out a license, he finds himself in an awkward situation.

His Derby contender, Personal Hope, is considered better than Union City, the horse his old boss is running.

From the looks Personal Hope, who trained yesterday, Lukas has a reason to be irked -- even though he said: "I'm 100 percent behind Mark. If we don't win it, I hope he does. I'm fond of him. He's like family. More than anyone else, except my son, Jeff, he fell into the mold of our organization."

Personal Hope is a son of Storm Bird, whose best son has been the 1990 Derby runner-up, Summer Squall. Personal Hope is a bigger, more muscular version of that horse, and doesn't have Summer Squall's flaw -- he's not a bleeder.

After turning in the best five-furlong workout of any of the Derby hopefuls that worked that distance yesterday, he was eager to pass horses even after being pulled up.

He comes out of a tough Derby prep, beating Union City and winning the Santa Anita Derby on April 3.

Lukas picked Personal Hope out as a yearling at the Saratoga sales for the bargain price of $75,000. He then sold him to one of his longtime clients, Lee Lewis, and his wife, Debi, from Lubbock, Texas. He learned at the Del Mar meet last summer that the Lewises were giving the horse to Hennig to train.

"It's like your assistant coach leaving and taking your best player with him," Lukas has told reporters. But at that time, Personal Hope had run only once. It was a poor effort, and he had been turned out on a farm in Kentucky.

Yesterday, Lukas said he feels it's more "a generational thing" than anything else.

"I'm 57. They [the Lewises] are more Mark's age. I've trained for Lee's family for 25 years. I had top quarter horses not only for Lee's father [H. C. Lewis], but also his mother, Helen. The first horse my son Jeff ever rubbed was owned by the Lewises. But they got to be good friends with Mark when he worked for me. They even went skiing together."

After the Santa Anita Derby, Hennig said it was "a tense time" for he and Lukas. "Both of us were standing in the test barn. The two horses were walking there and I had won it with a horse he had originally bought.

"Later we sat down and talked it over. Actually, the discussion took place over the phone. He told me how proud he was of me and how much he cared for me. But I know it's hard on him, and hasn't been an easy thing.

"On the other hand, this happens in this business all the time. I can see where it would be a big story if they [the Lewises] had taken the horse away from him after the Santa Anita Derby. But it had happened when the horse was 2, before he had ever won. It was more Lee and Debi giving me the horse than taking it away from Wayne."

Henning said that as a tribute to his former boss, he runs the horse in a white bridle, which has been a Lukas trademark.

"I don't want him to feel I'm disassociating myself with him," Hennig said.

The Lewises, meanwhile, are thrilled with the job Hennig has done.

"The karma between us is amazing," Lee Lewis, 41, said. "Even if we don't win, it will still be fun. Mark makes every decision and sticks by his plans. On the day of the Santa Anita Derby, he vanned the horse from his barn at Hollywood Park over to Santa Anita at 4 a.m. and galloped him. It was just a light gallop, but it was done so the horse would think nothing special was up and it kept him mentally stable. Mark pays attention to details.

"He told me last December that Personal Hope would be this kind of horse. He said, 'We're going at our own pace, and he'll be ready for the Derby.'

"And," Lewis added, "here we are."

KENTUCKY DERBY

What: 119th running of "The Run for the Roses," the first event in horse racing's Triple Crown.

Where: Churchill Downs, Louisville, Ky.

When: Saturday, 5:32 p.m.

Distance: 1 1/4 miles

Field: Twenty 3-year-old thoroughbreds are considered likely starters, though there might be a couple of defections by official entry time tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. Early favorites are Prairie Bayou, Personal Hope, Bull Inthe Heather and Storm Tower

TV: Channel 13 at 4:30 p.m.

Local betting outlets: Pimlico Race Course, Laurel Race Course and Rosecroft Raceway

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