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Rick Snider: Lukas' run isn't over just yet

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Sports,Rick Snider

BALTIMORE -

The man in the white hat rode off into the sunrise a winner once more.

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas was once the bad guy in thoroughbred racing. Wearing a white Stetson around the barns and expensive suits in winner's circles, he dragged an old-school sport into modern times by making TV cameras love him and owners provide blank checks at horse auctions.

Old trainers so resented Lukas in the 1980s and '90s when his supermarket stable won regularly from coast to coast. Flying in on the eve of racing just wasn't done by older conditioners like Woody Stephens and Charlie Whittingham. They didn't seek attention, either. Lukas was a stone in their boot, and they so enjoyed beating him.

Indeed, Whittingham once joked Lukas would one day be a good trainer when finally learning the game. This was after Lukas already won a Triple Crown race.

A generation later, Lukas is the sport's elder statesman. His tree of former assistants dominates racing. Think San Francisco coach Bill Walsh's coaching tree only using horseshoes instead of pigskins.

The detractors have passed. So has the jealousy. Even successor Bob Baffert no longer spars with Lukas but congratulated the latter after Lukas' Oxbow won the Preakness Stakes on Saturday. A sixth Preakness victory showed Lukas' run in major races isn't over, yet.

"I enjoy it so much," he said. "I don't wake up every day trying to prove I can train a horse anymore. When you're younger, you keep trying to prove yourself in this industry. But at this point in my career I'm very comfortable with where we're at."

Lukas' first Preakness saw his Codex beat national-favorite filly Genuine Risk in a controversial 1980 finish that forced a Maryland Racing Commissioners review over three days. Lukas admits he thought it was an easy game then. Instead, it took 33 years to surpass legendary Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons for a record 14 Triple Crown race victories.

"The first classic I ever ran in was Codex right here. I told my son this is no big deal," Lukas said. "We'll win a bunch of these and then I went 10 years before I got another one."

Already, Lukas is thinking about the Belmont Stakes on June 8. Another chance to prove he's not done yet.

"You know me, I like to rack them up in big events," he said, "so I'll probably go."

By 4:30 a.m. Sunday, 10 hours after winning the Preakness, Lukas was in a van with Oxford headed back to their Louisville base to prep for the Belmont. Not even a weary press corps could coerce a 5:30 a.m. departure.

"Some of us in this great nation get up and get after it in the morning," said Lukas with a grin, "others sleep in."

Examiner columnist Rick Snider has covered local sports since 1978. Read more on Twitter @Snide_Remarks or email rsnider@washingtonexaminer.com.

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