When it comes to Breeders' Cup training records, D. Wayne Lukas sets the standard. First in wins with 18 and first in purse earnings with more than $20 million, he will seek to add to those totals this year.
Shug McGaughey comes the closest to Lukas in wins with nine and this year brings Point of Entry, the morning-line favorite for the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT). Lukas has 20-1 Optimizer ready to challenge Point of Entry and 10 others in the Turf.
Though most of Lukas' Breeders' Cup winners have been well backed at the windows, he can spring surprises. He won the 2000 Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) with Spain, who paid $113.80, and the 1999 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) with 32-1 Cash Run.
Brad Kelley's Bluegrass Hall LLC bred and owns Optimizer, a 3-year-old son of English Channel --Indy Pick, by A.P. Indy. Kelley, a billionaire with extensive land holdings, owns Bluegrass Hall farm in Lexington and leases historic Calumet Farm from the Calumet Investment Group Trust, which bought Calumet earlier this year.
"We wanted to be on the grass, so we had two options," said Lukas about Optimizer's Breeders' Cup choices. "The Mile (gr. IT) is too short. The mile and a half is a better option, but that's a tough race. You get the European flavor--that's their cup of tea."
Optimizer began his career on the grass, breaking his maiden at Saratoga last year in his racing debut. All three of his wins have come on that surface. In his first attempt on dirt, he ran eighth in the 2011 Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I). This year, Optimizer followed the Triple Crown trail, competing in all three races, before Lukas moved him back to the grass. The colt is coming off two consecutive turf victories, a 1 3/16-mile allowance/optional claimer at Saratoga and the 1 1/8-mile Kent Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Delaware Park.
"He's very consistent, and he's a solid performer," said Lukas. "He's going to have to bring his A game. He's going to have to move up. But for $3 million, if we get a piece of it, we'll be happy too."
Optimizer is continually improving, and Lukas feels he will be even better next year at 4.
"Three-year-olds going a mile and half at this time of year is a tough order," the trainer said. "Next year this race will fit him to a T. I hate to look that far ahead, but I think that's a fact. English Channel never won a grade I till he was 4."
English Channel competed in the Turf three times, winning it in 2007 after finishing fifth in 2005 and third in 2006.
The Turf is the only one of the seven original Breeders' Cup races that Lukas hasn't won. His 18 victories include five Juveniles (gr. I), five Juvenile Fillies, four Distaffs, two Sprints (gr. I), and one each in the Classic (gr. I) and Mile.