Lukas, Day: Will the rich get richer?

November 05, 1994|By JOHN EISENBERG

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- It is not unlike a merger of Coke and Pepsi, or IBM and Apple. A terrifying prospect for the rest of the industry.

Now that D. Wayne Lukas and Pat Day are working together, will anyone else ever win a race?

That's a hyperbolic question, of course. There are far too many races for any one trainer or jockey to come close to dominating. But the teaming of Lukas and Day is certainly a monster in the making.

Lukas' vast, mega-bankrolled stable has more stakes wins than any other in the past decade. And Day has won $144 million in purses over the years with his patience and soft hands. Between them, they have won 27 Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup races.

They have teamed up occasionally before, winning the 1985 Preakness with Tank's Prospect, the 1986 Breeders' Cup Distaff with Lady's Secret and countless smaller races. But in the past year Lukas has begun relying on Day to ride many of his top horses. The results have been predictably large.

They have already won six Grade I stakes in 1994, including the Preakness and Belmont, and today, in an unprecedented show of force, they have the morning-line favorites in three of the seven Breeders' Cup races at Churchill Downs.

"We've been on a roll," Lukas said yesterday. "I just hope it keeps up for one more day."

Their favorites are Timber Country (7-2 in the Juvenile), Flanders (6-5 in the Juvenile Fillies) and Tabasco Cat (7-2 in the Classic). Day is riding a fourth favorite, Paradise Creek (8-5 in the Turf), for another trainer.

"It's a rider's dream," Day said yesterday. "I keep asking myself, 'Am I dreaming or am I going to wake up in a minute?' "

Said Day's agent, Fred Aime: "I've never seen one rider have this type of horses on one day. And I don't think anything's ever come close to it."

Day would not be in such a position had Lukas not begun using him more. Logistics had always limited their ability to work together -- Day races in the Midwest and Lukas trains his best horses in California -- but Lukas decided to ignore that excuse with Tabasco Cat, a fractious horse that clearly would benefit from Day's calming influence.

"Pat has what I call baby hands," Lukas said. "He just has a natural gift for getting horses to run. I've always liked him. He might be the best [jockey] of my era."

As Tabasco Cat won the Preakness and Belmont and raced through the summer and fall, Lukas continued to feed Day the barn's best horses. Flanders, a filly that won her last start by 21 lengths, has the talent to become a champion of real substance.

"I can't say that there was one day when I said I was going to make a point of using him more," Lukas said. "But when we won with Tabasco Cat, it just seemed like the thing to do to give him Flanders and Timber Country. And they won, too. It's not unlike a coach and a basketball player. If you win, you play. If you don't win, you sit on the bench. I'm playing Pat because he's winning."

Day's version of their decision to become "partners" is slightly different. It all began with that awful morning at Santa Anita last December when Tabasco Cat got loose and ran over Lukas' son, Jeff, leaving Jeff in a coma for weeks.

"I called him right after the incident, prayed with him and encouraged him," Day said. "I think there was a bonding."

The ultimate bonding experience in racing is standing together in the winner's circle, of course, and Day has helped facilitate Lukas' comeback from a slump that saw him drop from first to ninth in the national trainers' standings and go more than two years without a Grade I win. This has been a year of redemption for Lukas, and, in the end, with Jeff back at work, a year of great personal satisfaction.

"We were down, no doubt about it," Lukas said, "but we're back to where we were on all fronts, as a stable and a family. We're back with a spring in our step."

Said Day: "Wayne has been through some terrible times and come through with flying colors. He is incredibly resilient."

An 0-for-18 run in the Breeders' Cup is the last remaining blotch on Lukas' record left over from his slump. The shutout should end today, with Day's help. Lukas is starting eight horses in four races.

Day? If he doesn't walk out of here with at least two wins, his day will be a disappointment.

But if favorites carry the day at all, Lukas and Day are looking at the biggest performance in the 11-year history of the Breeders' Cup.

"Normally I don't think about it much, but when I do it rocks me back on my heels," Day said. "It could be a monster day."

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