Proud Citizen romps to victory in the Lexington Stakes.

Proud Citizen romps to victory in the Lexington Stakes.

Anne M. Eberhardt

Keeneland Race Report: Citizen Wayne

Published in the April 27 issue of The Blood-Horse
Rule number one on the Triple Crown trail: Never discount, dismiss, or count out trainer D. Wayne Lukas. The Hall of Fame tactician--who saddled at least one horse in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) for 20 straight years--missing his first Derby since 1981 a year ago, turned Hall of Fame magician April 20 by sending out Proud Citizen to an emphatic 3 1/4-length score in Keeneland's $364,650 Coolmore Lexington Stakes (gr. II). The clean, solid-looking son of Gone West not only proved he belongs in the Derby starting gate in two weeks, but also picked up a necessary $226,083 in graded earnings, the measuring stick to make the Derby gate.

While the Lexington vaulted the 8-1 upset winner forward to the classics, questions remain for those in his wake. Runner-up Crimson Hero, trained by Nick Zito, may head for the Preakness (gr. I), as well as the tough-tripped, third-place finisher Easyfromthegitgo. Favorite Ethan Man, making his first start around two turns, never got on track over the wet, deep surface and finished fifth. His immediate future may remain going around one turn.

But the afternoon belonged to Lukas. "I don't think we got to the bottom of him today," he said of Proud Citizen, who was making just his second start of the year. "We have a fresh horse that hasn't gone to the well." Lukas, the master of trainer-speak, was just getting warmed up. He has two more weeks to polish his act for the media.

The 1 1/16-mile Lexington had plenty of pre-race drama. The day before the race, morning-line favorite Officer was scratched after a filling was discovered in his left front leg. Ninety days of rest were prescribed for Bob Baffert's Cal-bred. While the horses were in the paddock, second choice Easyfromthegitgo had to have a shoe reset, pushing post time back five minutes. Then, when all the horses were loaded, Proud Citizen charged the gate, breaking the doors of the two-hole open. Proud Citizen, ridden by Mike Smith, hit his head hard. He was quickly collared by an assistant starter, but Mucho Rapido, next to him at the rail, broke through the gate. He was quickly snatched up by rider Jon Court, but it took a few minutes to have him reloaded, which proved to be a key for Proud Citizen.

"Mike said he was thankful it took a while to get him back to the gate because he needed every minute to get his (Proud Citizen's) act together," Lukas said.

Once the gates finally opened for the eight runners, Proud Citizen, who broke a little slowly, was hustled up to get the early advantage and Keeneland's golden rail. American Style and One Tuff Fox followed. The swift Ethan Man, breaking from post six, floated wide into the first turn, losing position, and likely losing interest. The West Point Thoroughbreds star never looked comfortable. "It was like he was on roller skates," trainer Pat Byrne said after the race. "He never did any running. I should have kept him at Churchill (for the mile Derby Trial, gr. III, April 27). That was my gut feeling. The track was deep, heavy, and greasy. A good horse can handle any track, so I don't like to use that as an excuse...but he didn't handle the track."

Proud Citizen, meanwhile, was manhandling the field. "I told Mike to sit one, two, three, four, just play it off the break," Lukas said. On the lead, he set moderate fractions of :23.65, :48.12, and 1:12.35, while the Zito-trained American Style chased. Zito's other runner, Tracy Farmer's Crimson Hero, made a challenging middle-move, then continued on well for a runner-up effort. Easyfromthegitgo had a rail trip, being checked on the first turn, then had trouble getting clear in the stretch, but rallied for third once securing some running room. The short stretch of 1 1/16-mile races at Keeneland didn't help.

Proud Citizen got the trip over the surface that was upgraded from muddy to fast before the race in 1:44.58. "That track is pretty deep," Lukas said "It's not that fast."

It was not only Lukas' day, but it's been his meet. He's well on his way to his 13th training title at Keeneland, but, as always, his thoughts are on how to get to Louisville.

"We were behind on him--I tried to act low key," he said. Proud Citizen didn't make his 3-year-old debut until the April 6 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), his first since a sixth-place finish in the Hopeful (gr. I) last September.

"His maiden (win) was a track-equaling performance," Lukas said, referring to Proud Citizen's quick beginning at two. "He showed brilliance. Then he developed a spur and we took it off and cleaned up the knee.

"Santa Anita wrote a race for him," Lukas said, "but they wrote it a week early and we were stuck. Yes, I used the Santa Anita Derby as a prep," he said wryly. "We had to go in the Santa Anita Derby. Mike couldn't ride him, so I asked Alex Solis to ride him. I told him to ride him as far as he'll go, but if he gets rubber-legged, hold him. We owe a lot to Alex for holding him in position." After attending the early pace, Proud Citizen faded to finish seventh of eight at Santa Anita.

The unflappable Lukas, who used the Lexington as a springboard for Charismatic in 1999, is back...and likely headed for his customary spot under Louisville's bright lights. "When you play this game, with this kind of money, you have to think this way," he said of Thoroughbred racing's top level.

Owners Robert Baker, David Cornstein, and Bill Mack paid $425,000 for the son of Gone West at the Keeneland September yearling sale. "Christina Baker said, 'I want a big-hat' horse," Lukas said after the race, referring to Derby couture. "It looks like we got her one."

Week Wrap

Dancethruthedawn, last year's Queen's Plate winner and champion 3-year-old filly in Canada, made a strong seasonal bow in the $107,600 Doubledogdare Stakes April 18. The daughter of Mr. Prospector--Dance Smartly is being pointed toward the high-end distaff stakes from here on out for Sam-Son Farm. Earlier that afternoon, Saints Cup made his first start since breaking his maiden at Saratoga in 1999 a winning one in an initial-condition allowance race. Originally owned by Robert "Country" and Bea Roberts, the son of Saint Ballado was subsequently purchased for $850,000 by Barry Golden and Peter Callahan from the partial dispersal of the Robertses' horses. The new owners sued and sought to rescind the purchase, contending Saints Cup had a bowed tendon at the time of sale. Before attorneys on both sides were to give final arguments in the suit, it was settled out of court. Saints Cup now races for Jeri and Sam Knighton and is trained by Steve Margolis, the connections of Derby contender Request for Parole.

On April 21, Michael Tabor's Duckhorn made a mockery of the 1 1/8-mile Ben Ali Stakes (gr. III) for older horses. With the scratch of Invisible Ink, only three challenged Duckhorn, who held as much as a 10 1/2-length advantage down the backstretch. He held on over a closing Parade Leader by seven lengths.

(Chart, Equibase)