LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- D. Wayne Lukas, the Hall of Fame trainer and four-time winner of the Kentucky Derby, is the front-runner for this year's Triple Crown patriotism award.
Three small American flags protrude from a flower box at his Churchill Downs barn. Above the flower box is a banner bearing the name of Proud Citizen, Lukas's Derby horse, plus two more American flags.
Below the flower box is the familiar photograph of firefighters raising the U.S. flag in the rubble of the World Trade Center.
"He's Proud Citizen out of Drums Of Freedom," Lukas proclaimed yesterday, referring to the colt and her mother. "And then we got 9/11."
And then, speaking of the Kentucky Derby without really changing the subject, he said: "I think this is a war out here, and you've got to get ready for it. You can't go soft."
He wasn't speaking about the fight against terrorism. He was talking about training methods for the Derby.
He had just sent out Proud Citizen for a five-furlong workout, and the Gone West colt blistered the track in 58.8 seconds.
"If his work this morning was any indication, we're right where we want to be," Lukas said. "I'd be very surprised if any horse comes close to that work."
He meant the 10 Derby candidates who also breezed yesterday at Churchill Downs. The closest to Proud Citizen's clocking was the Bill Mott-trained Blue Burner, who sped five furlongs in 59 seconds.
Until Proud Citizen waltzed to a 3 1/4 -length victory April 20 in the Lexington Stakes, Lukas was in danger of missing his second straight Derby after a string of 20 in a row.
Proud Citizen, who broke his maiden by 9 1/4 lengths in June at Belmont Park, was one of Lukas' top Derby hopes, but then the colt underwent knee surgery for removal of a bone spur. That seemingly knocked him off the Derby trail.
"In January, he started training better than we'd hoped," Lukas said. "We kept getting more and more optimistic every day. This horse came along in leaps and bounds, maybe faster than any horse I've had. We had to use the Santa Anita Derby as a prep race."
Lukas ran Proud Citizen in the Santa Anita Derby after his seven-month layoff. The colt finished seventh of eight. Three weeks later, Proud Citizen won the Lexington.
And now, as unlikely as this may seem, two weeks after that, Proud Citizen will run in the Kentucky Derby.
"He's a very gifted horse," Lukas said. "You'd be making a big mistake to leave him out of any handicapping scenario."
Staying in trim
Ten Derby candidates breezed at Churchill Downs: Private Emblem, four furlongs in 48.8; Windward Passage, four furlongs in 48.6; Blue Burner, five furlongs in 59; Came Home, five furlongs in 1:00.6; Easy Grades, five furlongs in 1:01.4; Lusty Latin, five furlongs in 1:01; Proud Citizen, five furlongs in 58.8; Saarland, five furlongs in 1:02; Medaglia d'Oro, six furlongs in 1:13.8, and Sunday Break, six furlongs in 1:14.4.
A decision on whether Mayakovsky will race in the Derby won't be made until tomorrow morning, his connections said. If the Gotham Stakes winner runs and no other horses defect, Windward Passage, U S S Tinosa, Sunday Break, Straight Gin and Red Masque will be excluded from the 20-horse field, which is based on graded-stakes earnings.
Tempera put down
Godolphin Racing's Tempera, winner of last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and Eclipse Award as outstanding 2-year-old filly, was euthanized Sunday night at the Hagyard-Davidson-McGee Veterinary Clinic in Lexington.
She developed a fever Friday, became lethargic and was transported Saturday to the clinic. She was expected back Sunday at Churchill Downs, but developed colitis and laminitis.
"It's hard to believe, but her condition went so bad in 24 hours they couldn't do anything to help her," said Tom Albertrani, assistant trainer for Godolphin, the worldwide stable based in the Middle East.
Belterra word today
Carl Nafzger, trainer of Bob Manfuso's Belterra, said he will announce today whether the filly will run in the Kentucky Oaks. He said he's not sure whether Belterra has completely recovered from recent surgery to correct a breathing problem.