Never count D. Wayne Lukas out when it comes to the Derby trail. The four-time winner of the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) will launch a two-pronged attack when he sends out Robert Baker and William Mack’s Duca in the $1 million Wood Memorial (gr. I) April 9 and Saratoga Red in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (gr. I) April 16.
Duca woke up following three out-of-the money performances last year and a four-month layoff, breaking his maiden by 1 1/2 lengths at Oaklawn Park going 1 1/16 miles. The son of Empire Maker – Tempus Fugit, by Alphabet Soup led every step of the way, turning back several challenges before drawing clear in the final sixteenth.
Duca actually has faced Uncle Mo before, chasing him for a half mile in his career debut before tiring badly. Since his maiden victory he has breezed five furlongs in 1:00 3/5 and six furlongs in 1:13.
“He’s a real nice horse, and you know me; I don’t mind dumping them in the deep end of the pool,” Lukas said. “Don’t be surprised if he raises hell in the Wood.”
All Duca needs is a second-place finish to get into the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
“I’m not going there to run second,” Lukas said. “I taught (Todd Pletcher) well, but we’ll be tough in there.”
Lukas is looking forward to running Baker and Mack's Saratoga Red in the Arkansas Derby. The son of Eddington was thrown into the Rebel Stakes (gr. II) off a game neck victory in a one-mile maiden race in his career debut. He chased The Factor in second through strong fractions of :23.33, :46.77, and 1:10.98, and although The Factor drew off to a 6 1/4-length victory, Saratoga Red hung tough, finishing fourth, beaten only 1 1/2 lengths for second.
“He’s also a real nice horse,” Lukas said. “He’s a Charismatic-type of horse who carries a lot of weight. I burned a little of that fat off him and his works since the Rebel have been sensational. In his last work, he came home his last quarter in :22 2/5. He’s really coming on. It wouldn’t even surprise me if he won the Arkansas Derby.
"The third or fourth time is when my horses come around. He has a beautiful mind and you’d never do this with a horse who didn’t have a good mind. He’s more settled in the paddock and post parade than the pony.”
Lukas will send an assistant to New York to saddle Duca. “I don’t want to get too far from Saratoga Red,” he said.
Lukas realizes both colts have to come through in tough races before he can start thinking Derby.
“We still have a round to go, but I’m not totally convinced we can’t make it there,” Lukas said.
Lukas, who has Three Chimneys Hopeful (gr. I) winner Dublin is back in training, quietly has had a successful meet at Oaklawn, and says it doesn’t bother him that most people around the country don’t even know he’s around.
“I don’t worry about that one iota,” Lukas said. “When the dust settles, watch out.”