Clock watcher Lukas hopes his time has arrived

Almost too impatient, Charismatic's handler awaits Crowning feat

Trainer

124th Preakness

May 16, 1999|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

On the face of D. Wayne Lukas' watch are the silk colors of all 11 Triple Crown winners, from Sir Barton to Affirmed, where the first 11 numbers ordinarily would be.

"I would sure like to get that 12 o'clock high filled in," Lukas said yesterday, minutes after winning the second of the three-race series.

One of the most successful trainers in history, Lukas has been focused on -- some would say obsessed with -- the classic series and the prestige that winning it would bring. He came close in 1995, becoming the first trainer to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes with two different horses (Thunder Gulch in the first and last and Timber Country in the Preakness). But that's not good enough for racing's ultimate prize -- a trophy that has not been awarded since 1978 -- or for the $5 million bonus that corporate sponsor Visa U.S.A. has pledged to the winner.

"We are grateful to be in a position to do something that would be good for the industry and good for me," Lukas said.

That he now stands on the cusp of that achievement with a horse that even he had lost faith in was not lost on him yesterday. He ran Charismatic in a claiming race in February, putting him at risk of being bought, after the colt failed to develop as hoped.

"Every day I'd say we've got a nice horse here but we're not getting it out of him. But we tried some different things and he started to respond," he said.

Lukas said the horse, which went off as a 31-1 shot at the Derby, has improved since then.

"I think this horse has moved forward. He was tighter and more focused, and losing some of his baby fat. He's grown up mentally," he said. "He was much more focused all week."

Charismatic's build and style are best suited for the Belmont's 1 1/2 miles, the longest of the Triple Crown races, he said.

"All along I've said I don't know about the first two races but I like him in the Belmont Stakes," Lukas said. "I like his style for that race. I think the distance will suit him just fine."

Lukas said he would ship the horse back to Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., to train until the Belmont in three weeks, flying him to the Elmont, N.Y., track on the Wednesday before the June 5 race.

He wants to stick with reclaimed jockey Chris Antley, who is coming back from a self-induced exile during which he battled a weight problem.

"He's this good, and so is the horse. It's been a good marriage," Lukas said.

He says he thinks the public, which sent Charismatic off at surprisingly long odds yesterday, will finally come around to the colt's talent, as he has.

Lukas has saddled 25 horses in the Preakness, and won five times, beginning with Codex in 1980. With yesterday's win, he now is tied with Thomas J. Healey for second place among the winningest Preakness trainers. Healey's last win came in 1929. The winningest trainer is Robert Wyndham Walden, who saddled seven winners, five of them consecutively, between 1875 and 1888.

Charismatic represented Lukas' fourth Derby win, putting him in second place among trainers in that race, too, two behind the leader, Ben Jones.

Lukas was elected last month to the National Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame.

Lukas moving up

Charismatic's victory yesterday gives trainer D. Wayne Lukas five Preakness victories, tying him for second on the all-time list:

Trainer (Wins) Years

R. W. Walden (7) 1875, 1878, 1879, 1880, 1881, 1882, 1888

T. J. Healey (5) 1901, 1922, 1923, 1926, 1929

D. Wayne Lukas (5) 1980, 1985, 1994, 1995, 1999

Lukas' wins in Triple Crown races:

Kentucky Derby (4)

Winning Colors 1988

Thunder Gulch 1995

Grindstone 1996

Charismatic 1999

Preakness (5)

Codex 1980

Tank's Prospect 1985

Tabasco Cat 1994

Timber Country 1995

Charismatic 1999

Belmont (3)

Tabasco Cat 1994

Thunder Gulch 1995

Editor's Note 1996

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