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Winning a Triple Crown Race Never Grows Old for Lukas

Seize the Grey may run in the Belmont; Mystik Dan, Thorpedo Anna possible starters

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas

Skip Dickstein

Believe it or not, trainer D. Wayne Lukas may grow old.

But that cannot be said of the thrill he receives from winning a Triple Crown race.

About 12 hours after his 15th Triple Crown win, Lukas still wore a wide, electric grin as he recounted the 2 1/4-length victory by MyRacehorse's Seize the Grey in the 149th Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course.

"The winning part never changes," said the 88-year-old living legend whose first Triple Crown triumph came in the 1980 Preakness with Codex. "Maybe some things have changed in the 44 years I have been here, like we don't get the television and media coverage we used to, but winning is still special. I love the competition."

In introspect, though Seize the Grey was 9-1 on the toteboard, his May 18 victory may have been one of the most improbable in Triple Crown annals. Yes, the son of Arrogate won the Pat Day Mile Stakes (G2) in his prior start. But what are the odds that a timeless man, less than four months away from turning 89, who spends the morning hours on his pony every day accompanying his 40-horse stable to the track, would have grade 1-winning and -placed 3-year-olds and would beat some of the very best trainers in the game and the Kentucky Derby (G1) winner in a $2 million Triple Crown race?

Nine-to-one is not fair value for that.

How does he do it?

"It's not that hard. I love training. So just to get up every day and have something to work with is pretty stimulating. I'm already getting excited about the 2-year-olds I have," Lukas said

Lukas said he was truly touched by the way he was congratulated after the race by his fellow trainers like fellow Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, holder of the record for Triple Crown wins, Ken McPeek, trainer of the aforementioned Kentucky Derby winner and Preakness runner-up, Mystik Dan, Chad Brown, and Brad Cox.

Seize the Grey and Jamie Torres win the G1 Preakness Stakes, Pimlico Racetrack, Baltimore, Md. May 18th, 2024, Mathea Kelley
Photo: Mathea Kelley
Seize the Grey and Jaime Torres win the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course

On May 19, he beamed as he showed off a text from Bill Parcells, the Super Bowl-winning NFL coach and horse owner, who wrote, "So happy for you, Wayne. Like I've said, I'm glad you didn't coach football or you would have run us all out."

In a sport filled with a massive amount of differences, one thing that can unite people is the respect and admiration for Lukas. Not that it was always that way, When he came to Thoroughbred racing in the late 1970s after a tremendous career in Quarter Horse racing, he was viewed as an interloper. It did not help that his 1980 Preakness win with Codex came at the expense of the Kentucky Derby-winning filly Genuine Risk and featured an incident on the final turn that did not merit a disqualification but led to a much-publicized appeal before the Maryland Racing Commission.

"Half the public is women and they were all mad at me after Codex won. There were a lot of angry people," Lukas said. "When I switched from Los Alamitos to Santa Anita, we started winning and there was a certain amount of resentment. I didn't feel that from Charlie Whittingham and Laz Barrera. They accepted me right away. I could tell the other guys resented me and I told my son (the late Jeff Lukas) to try and win the respect from all our colleagues and that's always been the case."

As for the future, Lukas said he was leaning toward running Seize the Grey in the June 8 much-anticipated Belmont Stakes (G1) at Saratoga Race Course where a victory would put the gray or roan colt—or Mystik Dan—in the driver's seat for the 3-year-old championship.

Though he plans to return Seize the Grey to his Kentucky barn at Churchill Downs, that does not mean a trip to the Spa is unlikely.

"I will return to Kentucky and regroup," the 1999 Hall of Famer said. "I think these horses rehab themselves quicker in their own environment. Taking him up to Saratoga right now might slow the process. Having said that, he was amazingly sharp this morning."

The news was not as good for Lukas' other Preakness starter, Just Steel. The Arkansas Derby (G1) runner-up came out of the race with what Lukas believes is a condylar fracture of the front right foot.

Just Steel gets a pat on the head prior to running in the 149th Preakness Stakes (GI) at Pimlico on May 18, 2024. Photo By: Chad B. Harmon
Photo: Chad B. Harmon
Just Steel gets a pat on the head prior to running in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico

"He has a crack in his sesamoid. It's not clear through," Lukas said. "We'll get him over to the clinic (the Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky.)  and let Dr. Larry Bramlage take a look at it. I have a hunch he'll put a pin in it."

At the other end of the Pimlico stakes barn, McPeek voiced no serious regrets about running back in two weeks after Mystik Dan's dramatic victory in the Kentucky Derby or the 3-year-old's trip in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness.

"In hindsight maybe we should have shoved him from there and been a little more aggressive and put ourselves inside of Seize the Grey," said McPeek about a race in which Mystik Dan was fourth early on while Seize the Grey skipped along in the mud on a clear lead. "(Jockey Brian Hernandez Jr.) does tend to relax horses and we thought (Imagination) was going to go, and he did but then (jockey Frankie Dettori) took hold. That kind of gave the front to Seize the Grey, but there's no do-overs. That's horse racing. We did our part. It wasn't a terrible mistake on Brian's part. He rode him like he knew him. That's the way it goes."

McPeek said Mystik Dan came back fine after his trip around Pimlico.

"He cleaned up (his food)," McPeek said about the son of Goldencents . "The tub was clean this morning. He's fresher than all of us. My whole team is exhausted."

As he did after the Kentucky Derby with the Preakness, McPeek would not commit to running Mystik Dan in the $2 million Belmont, even though Mystik Dan is expected to leave for New York May 20. He also added that Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Thorpedo Anna was a possibility for the mile-and-a-quarter Belmont at the Spa.

"We'll get (Mystik Dan) up there and watch him for part of the week or more and let him tell us," McPeek said,

As for why he may consider running Thorpedo Anna against the boys, McPeek pointed to her front-running victory in the Kentucky Oaks.

"She's fast and doing extremely well," McPeek said,

McPeek said he would not run both Mystik Dan and Thorpedo Anna in the Belmont, pointing out the June 7 $500,000 Acorn Stakes (G1) at the Spa would also be a possibility for his grade 1-winning filly.

Of the other five starters in the Preakness, Tuscan Gold is the only other possible starter in the historic first-ever Belmont Stakes at Saratoga. 

Brown said Tuscan Gold, who finished fourth, did not like the muddy racetrack.

Among other possibilities for the final jewel in the Triple Crown are Kentucky Derby runner-up Sierra Leone, beaten Kentucky Derby favorite Fierceness; Antiquarian and The Wine Steward, who ran 1-2 in the Peter Pan Stakes (G3); Honor Marie; and Dornoch.

Mike Repole, who owns Fierceness, said he and trainer Todd Pletcher were undecided on running the undefeated Mindframe, an easy allowance winner on Kentucky Derby Day at Churchill Downs.

The post position draw for the Belmont is slated for June 3 in Saratoga.