Recovering J. Lukas delights in 'emotional' win 119TH PREAKNESS

May 22, 1994|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Writer

Jeff Lukas still doesn't remember what happened in the backstretch at Santa Anita Park last Dec. 15, the day that he was trampled and nearly killed by a runaway horse named Tabasco (( Cat.

"No specific recall," Lukas said last night by telephone from his home in Glendale, Calif. "The only reason I do know the date is because of the medical records."

Lukas will have plenty of memories from yesterday.

Of watching the 119th Preakness Stakes with his wife, Linda, and their two small children at a friend's house.

Of rooting for Tabasco Cat, who rallied to beat Kentucky Derby winner Go For Gin at Pimlico Race Course.

"It was very emotional and exciting," said Lukas, 36, the son of the Preakness winner's trainer D. Wayne Lukas and the assistant trainer in his father's operation. "The emotions involved in a race like that, of the work everyone put in for the horse to win the Preakness. It was tremendously satisfying to see it."

But Lukas said that watching Tabasco Cat win was no different emotionally than watching any other horse as, he said, "run tough."

That Lukas was there to see it is something of a medical miracle. After three weeks in a coma -- he came close to death twice: first from brain damage, and then pneumonia. Lukas was hospitalized for nearly two months.

The progress, once it came, was agonizingly slow. After a month, he still couldn't see out of his right eye or use his right hand. He had trouble speaking and breathing. He was finally released from the hospital in early March.

While he still has depth perception problems and some short-term memory loss, Lukas has made a remarkable recovery. He played golf for the first time Friday and was planning to take his family to a carnival last night.

The elder Lukas said after the victory that he hoped his son

would be back for the Breeders' Cup in November. But Jeff Lukas said last night, "I hope to be back much before that. I'm ready to go back right now."

But he also is listening to the doctors at the Casa Colina Rehabilitation Center in Pomona, Calif., where he continues to undergo therapy. "My health is good," he said. "Everything is going in the right direction."

D. Wayne Lukas tried to call his son at home right after the race, but didn't reach him. "I think he's happy," the elder Lukas said, "I'm happy for him. This was for [owners] Mr. [William T.] Young and Mr. [David] Reynolds, but this was also for Jeff."

Asked about the emotion of watching the horse that brought trauma to his family back in December bring triumph yesterday, the elder Lukas said, "I try to keep those two things separate."

Jeff Lukas apparently was able to keep those emotions apart as well, and was happy that Tabasco Cat will be recalled for something other than almost trampling him to death.

"His remaining career will be better now," Lukas said. "People will talk about him winning the Preakness."

Certainly, Jeff Lukas says he will remember Tabasco Cat for running down Go For Gin on the homestretch at Pimlico, not running the assistant trainer down on the backstretch at Santa Anita.

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