It’s been a decade since D. Wayne Lukas had his last Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner and it is no secret that the 74-year-old is itching for another one. The Hall of Fame trainer may have his best chance at collecting his elusive fifth Derby crown with 2-year-old star Dublin, who leads a field of six in the $400,000 Champagne Stakes (gr. I) Oct. 10 at Belmont Park.
Lukas is not interested in talking Derby just yet, but it is clear he feels he has something pretty special sitting in his barn at Belmont. That is why he is spending much more time in New York these days instead of his home base in Louisville.
“Whenever I’ve had a horse like this, like Folklore, that I thought is grade I quality, I’ve always stayed here,” Lukas said. “I’m not going to get very far from Dublin.
“This is what all of us are in the profession for—to have a nice 2-year-old. This is what makes you enjoy the sport so much, the speculation that you may have ‘the one.’”
Folklore, winner of the 2005 Alberto VO5 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) en route to being named that year's champion 2-year-old female, was Lukas’ last grade I winner before Dublin came along. A son of 2005 dual-classic winner Afleet Alex, Dublin turned heads with his two-length victory in Saratoga’s Three Chimneys Hopeful (gr. I) last month. Now he will stretch out to a mile for the Champagne, which has produced Derby winners Seattle Slew, Spectacular Bid, and Sea Hero.
Lukas picked the chestnut colt out of the 2008 Keeneland Fall yearling sale for owners Robert Baker and William Mack, who purchased the chestnut colt for $525,000. He was bred in Kentucky by Peter Blum and Gerry Dilger, and is out of the Storm Bird mare Classy Mirage.
Dublin finished fourth in his June 11 debut at Churchill Downs, then broke his maiden by 3 1/4 lengths at Saratoga before the Hopeful score.
Already 16-3 hands and more than of 1,250 pounds, Dublin towers over most other juveniles.
“Allen Jerkens and I were looking at him the other day, and we said if you told people he was a 4-year-old, no one would doubt it. We stood him in the gate with two other 2-year-olds and his rump was this much higher than theirs,” Lukas said, holding his hands wide apart.
While Jamie Theriot guided Dublin to victory in his two victories, Lukas has hired New York’s top rider Ramon Dominguez for the Champagne. They will break from post 5 as the 8-5 favorite.
The 3-1 second choice on the morning-line is Gary and Mary West Stables’ homebred Aspire, who was the runner-up in the Hopeful after coming from well off the pace under Julien Leparoux. A son of Tale of the Cat, Aspire broke his maiden by a half length at first asking Aug. 12 at the Spa. Javier Castellano has the mount this time for trainer Eddie Kenneally.
While Belmont’s Sept. 19 Futurity (gr. I) winner D’ Funnybone will not make an appearance in the Champagne, runner-up Discreetly Mine will. E. Paul Robsham’s homebred son of Mineshaft was beaten 4 3/4 lengths in that race, but had a troubled trip that included a poor break. The bay colt, who showed early speed in his previous three efforts, broke his maiden by 6 1/4 lengths at Saratoga Aug. 22.
“He stumbled a little on the break and it cost him,” trainer Stanley Hough said. “It forced him to come inside. It didn’t make a difference in the outcome, but he may have been a couple lengths closer. The maiden race, Dublin’s first start, he got into a speed duel that hurt him. He’s progressed nicely.”
Impressive maiden winner Homeboykris will face a stiff test in his graded stakes debut. A gelding by Roman Ruler, Homeboykris was purchased privately by a group headed by Louis Lazzinnaro following his 3 1/4-length maiden score at Calder Race Course July 11. He was transferred from the barn of Pablo Andrade to Rick Dutrow Jr.
A Maryland-bred, Homeboykris had minor foot issues to contend with when Dutrow got him, but he has been working steadily at Aqueduct and Belmont for the Champagne.
“We’ve had him a couple months,” Dutrow said. “He had a problem with the bottom of his foot, like a corn, but we kept him in training. We fixed his hind end. Right now, he’s training unbelievably. He’s been training very good for three weeks. I think he’s a nice one. It’s my call. I know who’s in the race.”
Edgar Prado will be in the irons on Homeboykris.
Completing the field is WinStar Farm’s Super Saver, who broke his maiden by seven lengths in the slop Sept. 11 at Belmont, and North Shore Racing’s Overlap, the seventh-place finisher in the Hopeful.
The winner of the Champagne will receive an automatic berth to the $2-million Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) Nov. 7 at Santa Anita. Post time is set for 5:15 p.m. EDT.
$400,000 Champagne Stakes (gr. I, Race 9, 5:15 p.m.), 2YO, 1 Mile (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Super Saver (KY), J R Velazquez, 122, T A Pletcher
2. Overlap (KY), J L Espinoza, 122, B Tagg
3. Aspire (KY), J Castellano, 122, E Kenneally
4. Discreetly Mine (KY), C H Velasquez, 122, S M Hough
5. Dublin (KY), R A Dominguez, 122, D W Lukas
6. Homeboykris (MD), E S Prado, 122, R E Dutrow, Jr.