LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- He is wearing a baseball cap with the number 5 stitched across the front as he goes about his business at Churchill Downs this week.
It is a number that, in two ways, symbolizes the bountiful lot of trainer D. Wayne Lukas as he prepares for Saturday's Kentucky Derby.
He has won five consecutive Triple Crown races, a record.
He also is running five horses in the Derby this year, another record.
Which five does his cap represent? It's not hard to figure out.
He delights in talking about the winning streak. "It'll take two straight Triple Crowns to beat it, which is pretty darn tough," he said.
Saturday's five entries? It's almost a disappointment to Lukas, even though it breaks the Derby record of four set in 1923.
"Over the winter, we looked at nine possible [Derby horses] and thought seven would make it," he said. "We had to settle for five."
It would all sound absurd coming from any trainer other than Lukas, who is on the roll of his life at age 60 and becoming adept at making the outlandish come true.
Just when we thought he could get no bigger, he hired a publicity agent, joined Bob Knight's motivational speech tour and developed a line of signature clothes. He has 150 horses in training and 163 employees.
"Are you slowing down at all now that you're 60?" someone asked him yesterday.
"No, I'm picking it up," he said. "I set the clock a half-hour earlier. I like the way things are going."
Who wouldn't? Most trainers take no more than two or three shots at the Derby in their entire careers. Lukas' nonstop success has attracted so many high-rolling owners investing so many millions in top horseflesh that he is almost guaranteed a half-dozen contenders every year.
"We're dealing with a lot of good horses, so I'm not going to say that [five Derby entries] won't happen again," Lukas said. "Our 2-year-old crop might be better than this one. And we just had our best recruiting year. We got all the yearlings we wanted at the sales."
One of these years he just might wind up with the entire Derby field.
He had three horses in the race last year, including the winner, Thunder Gulch.
This year? "It's my Fab Five," he said. "My point guard is Honour and Glory, my center is Editor's Note, my power forward is Prince of Thieves, my off guard is Victory Speech and my shooting forward is Grindstone."
You can't tell the players without a scorecard in the confusing traffic jam around his barn every morning.
Training one-fourth of a full Derby field is quite a feat, but, as always with Lukas, there is controversy.
None of the Fabs is a superstar; they have just six wins in 20 combined starts in 1996, with two wins in graded stakes and none in major Derby preps.
Some racetrackers suggest that Lukas is reaching, desperately throwing quantity instead of quality at his attempt to win his sixth straight Triple Crown race.
There is some evidence supporting the argument. Prince of Thieves has never won a graded stakes. Victory Speech has never won more than an allowance race. Grindstone has five career starts. Honour and Glory's late fold in the Santa Anita Derby suggested he was a sprinter. Editor's Note hasn't won a race since September.
Lukas just laughs at the suggestion that he is reaching.
"We're in a pretty nice position, frankly," he said. "We're taking one hell of a hand over there [to the starting gate]."
There is evidence supporting his argument, too. All five Fabs have expensive breeding and have drawn calls during the prep season. They have a combined $1.78 million in earnings. Most importantly, they have jockeys such as Pat Day, Gary Stevens, ** Jerry Bailey and Jose Santos.
"You can't ever say you're going to win in this game, because it'll humble you," Lukas said. "But we're confident. We're going to be a factor.
"I wouldn't be surprised to see [trademark Lukas] white bridles everywhere at the top of the stretch."
Winning six straight Triple Crown races with four horses over three years would, of course, stand as one of the great feats in racing history. Lukas insisted yesterday that it wasn't an obsession.
"You people say I have a big ego, but my ego feeds me in different ways than that," he said. "Don't get me wrong. The record should stand for a while, and I'm proud of it. But it has no bearing on trying to win the Derby this year, which is what I'm doing. The only way it really fuels me is when someone says, 'Well, he can't win six.' We'll see about that."
"What if you do win?" someone asked.
"Maybe we'll just go ahead and push this thing right out of reach, up to seven or eight wins in a row or something like that," he said. "That would be harder to break than Cal Ripken's streak, wouldn't it?"
Pub Date: 5/02/96