After more than three decades of experience in the Thoroughbred industry, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas considers himself “the guru” of the first weekend in May.
“If you don’t have a horse in the Derby, everyone wants you to critique their horses,” said Lukas, who has captured the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks (both gr. I) four times each. This year, he will send Flying Private to the starting gate for the Run for the Roses.
For the May 1 Oaks, Lukas has not one, not two, but three of the six fillies that are looking to take the lilies from 3-5 morning favorite Rachel Alexandra…or at least get a whiff of them by checking in second, third, or even fourth.
“This year is a bad year to be in the Oaks because of Rachel Alexandra--it’s as simple as that,” he said. Lukas has entered Stone Legacy, Tweeter, and Be Fair in the nine-furlng race even though none have yet been able to succeed in stakes company.
“I decided to enter three, and what I’m going to do is put one in the gate, one at the sixteenth pole, and I’m going to put my last one on the relay up at the kitchen and hope we can finish with (Rachel), and then I’m not even sure we can get it done,” he said with a laugh.
Lukas last scored in the Oaks in 1990 with Seaside Attraction, who just so happen to pull off a major upset of Go for Wand over a muddy track. His other past Oaks winners are Open Mind (1989), Lucky Lucky Lucky (1984), and Blush With Pride (1982).
His 2009 contenders Stone Legacy, a daughter of 2004 Kentucky Derby winner Birdstone, and Tweeter, a daughter of Unbridled’s Song, are both Mary Lou Whitney Stables homebreds. Be Fair, by Exchange Rate, is campaigned by Arkansas-based Joe and Scott Ford’s Westrock Stables.
“When you run three, especially in a short field, you’ve got to be careful that they don’t compromise each other,” said Lukas. “They have three different styles: Tweeter will be more forward and on the pace; Be Fair has good, tactical speed, but probably will be mid-pack; and Stone Legacy will be coming late if there is such a thing—if she’s got the ability.
“We’re realistic. We know Rachel Alexandra is a super good filly. Since Winning Colors, I think she’s the best one to come along,” Lukas said, referring to the 1988 Derby winner. Lukas should know, since he trained the massively sized gray mare, who was just the third female to take home the roses. “I thought Winning Colors was an unbelieveable filly, and (Rachel Alexandra) is also.”
Lukas said Be Fair was the most seasoned and talented filly out of his trio of Oaks contenders this year.
“She likes (the Churchill track), and if the showers come, she’s awfully good in the mud, too.”
Be Fair, who won her first two starts, finished fourth in both the March 15 Honeybee Stakes (gr. III) at Oaklawn Park and in the April 4 Ashland Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland on the Polytrack.
Stone Legacy, who broke her maiden in February at Oaklawn, finished fifth last out in the Bourbonette Stakes (gr. III) at Turfway, while Tweeter just broke her maiden on her third try at Keeneland going 1 1/16 miles April 3.
“You’ve got to put this in perspective…it’s the Kentucky Oaks, and it’s a career-making race in a lot of ways,” he said. “With fillies, when you ask owners to put up substantial amounts of money for a yearling or a proven racehorse, you need to give them an opportunity to have some residual value at the end of the day.
“If we could run second, third, or even fourth in the Oaks, putting that on a filly’s resume when she goes to the broodmare band is significant. We don’t have any grandiose ideas of beating (Rachel Alexandra), unless something happens, and things do happen in racing.”
When asked if he would be willing to sacrifice one of his horses in order to break the pace, Lukas was quick to state, “We’re not going to do that. We’ll have (these fillies) do what they do best and give everyone a legitimate chance to be on the board.”