Trainer D. Wayne Lukas, his Preakness winner Oxbow, and the rest of his nine-horse contingent last week at Pimlico Race Course were on the highway before dawn Sunday heading back to the Hall of Fame conditioner's home base at Churchill Downs.
Lukas said he plans to move on to the Belmont Stakes in three weeks with Oxbow and possibly seventh-place Preakness finisher Will Take Charge. Titletown Five, Lukas' third Preakness entrant who finished last, will run in shorter races for the rest of his 3-year-old campaign, Lukas said.
Meanwhile, trainer Shug McGaughey said he will monitor Kentucky Derby winner Orb following his fourth-place Preakness finish. Stuart Janney III and Phipps Stable's homebred colt will train at Belmont Park before a decision is made on his status for the June 8 Belmont Stakes.
"I want to see him bounce back and see his soundness level and his energy level," McGaughey said. "I think there are a lot of good wins down the road for him."
The night before, 77-year-old Lukas was celebrating his sixth Preakness win and his first since 1999, as well as his record 14th Triple Crown win overall. It was Lukas' first classic win since Commendable won the Belmont Stakes in 2000.
The glory days of Lukas were seemingly gone in the new millennium with the passing of wealthy clients like Eugene Klein, W. T. Young and Bob Lewis. In recent years, Lukas had geared down his operation and had become more of a fringe player on racing's biggest stage.
But Oxbow, who won in front-running style by 1¾ lengths at odds of 15-1, helped turn back the clock for both Lukas and his 50-year-old rider, Gary Stevens, who returned to racing's grandest stage following a seven-year retirement. In the race preceding the Preakness, Lukas and Stevens also combined with Skyring to post a 24-1 upset in the $300,000 Longines Dixie Stakes.
Both wins also marked a return to the top for Calumet Farm, which had long faded from the forefront of major thoroughbred racing. Calumet had not won a classic since Forward Pass in the 1968 Preakness.
I was trying to be politically correct all week, but I thought [Oxbow] was the toughest horse. I thought if there was some adversity or something went wrong, he had the best chance to overcome
”-- D. Wayne Lukas, Oxbow's trainer
"I was trying to be politically correct all week, but I thought [Oxbow] was the toughest horse. I thought if there was some adversity or something went wrong, he had the best chance to overcome," Lukas said. "Will Take Charge is so big that he has to get a clear run. He can't check, stop, take a bump or anything. The other horse [Titletown Five] we knew was going to need a career quantum leap forward."
Lukas rode in a pickup truck for more than 12 hours to Pimlico on May 14 and was to follow the same routine back home Sunday.
"I've always rode with the horses all my career," said Lukas, whose six winners in the middle jewel of America's Triple Crown is one behind 19th-century trainer Robert Wyndham Walden. "I used to go on the airplanes and stand there with them all the time. We don't fly much anymore.
"I'll get him home at feeding time just about. By the time I get him home and give [Oxbow] a bath it'll be right about 5 o'clock. They put a bucket seat where I ride on kind of an air-ride slide thing. It's like riding in a boat somewhere on the waves."
Stevens won his third Preakness following Silver Charm and Point Given.
Last year at this time, Stevens was working in Baltimore as a TV analyst for NBC and HRTV. Lukas said all week he was thrilled to have the Hall of Famer aboard Oxbow and was encouraged by his sixth-place performance in the Kentucky Derby May 4 on a sloppy track at Churchill Downs.
"He's so on top of all this stuff," Lukas said of Stevens. "He'll tell you the fractions, who was laying fourth on the backside and everything. He's very into this, very into this."
Oxbow, a son of Breeders' Cup Classic winner Awesome Again, is Lukas' first Preakness winner since Charismatic in 1999. His other Preakness winners were Timber Country (1995), Tabasco Cat (1994), Tank's Prospect (1985), and Codex (1980).
Lukas noted that the outpouring of congratulations for his Preakness win included those of fellow Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, often his rival during those glory years. Lukas passed Baffert, who has five Preakness wins from 14 starters, compared with 40 for Lukas.
Baffert started Govenor Charlie, a disappointing eighth.
"Over the years a lot of people thought that Baffert and I had a rivalry, when actually we come from pretty similar backgrounds and we're pretty good friends," Lukas said. "It was really significant yesterday when he came down and congratulated me right after the race. A mutual friend of ours said that when his horse didn't look like he was getting it done at the half-mile pole, Bob and a friend were jumping up and down and saying: 'Go get 'em, Lukey.' "
There were no reports of injury out of this year's Preakness.
Orb, the 3-5 favorite in the Preakness, boarded a van bound for New York at 7 a.m. Sunday morning showing no ill effects following his disappointing try.
"He came out of it fine. He's sound. Physically, everything is fine," McGaughey said. "We'll get him up the road and evaluate the situation to see where we'll go."
McGaughey didn't have an explanation for Orb's dull performance from the inside post that followed a sharp 2½-length victory two weeks earlier.
"The racetrack was probably deep down the inside there. There was a lot of throwback. We couldn't get to the outside," the Hall of Fame trainer said. "I thought he was in good position and [jockey Joel Rosario] took him to the right position, and all of a sudden he had no horse. Why that was, I don't know. I think it wasn't our day and it was Oxbow's day."
McGaughey said the defeat makes him appreciate the Derby victory even more.
"Winning the Derby was my lifelong dream. We won it. I would have loved to win [Saturday] to take it to the next level, so I do appreciate how tough it is," McGaughey said. "If I have the opportunity again [to compete in the Derby], I may cherish it even more, because I've seen how tough it is to get it done. Maybe, I do appreciate how tough it is to win more. As brilliant as we were two weeks ago, we weren't as brilliant yesterday."
Preakness runner-up Itsmyluckyday, owned by Trilogy Stable and Laurie Plesa, looked bright Sunday morning, earning high marks from trainer Eddie Plesa Jr.
"On a 1-to-10 scale, 10-plus," Plesa said.
Itsmyluckyday, who had finished 15th in the Kentucky Derby, rebounded with a strong showing at Pimlico. The son of Lawyer Ron, who was forwardly placed in fourth as Oxbow set a comfortable pace along the backstretch, kicked in through the stretch but could get no closer than 1¾ lengths of the winner.
"I wouldn't take anything away from Wayne's horse, but they went the half in 48-and-change. That's pretty much walking. Did that help his horse? Absolutely. Did it hurt my horse? Absolutely," Plesa said. "I won't say anything other than: 'I wish the pace would have been quicker.' "
Plesa said a start in the Belmont Stakes is far from a definite for the Gulfstream Park Derby and Holy Bull winner. "It's 50-50 at best," he said.
Itsmyluckyday, who was scheduled to ship to Monmouth Park on Sunday, is likely to run in the Haskell Invitational at the New Jersey track July 28.
"The Haskell is on my list. God willing, that's a certainty," Plesa said.
Trainer Tom Amoss said third-place Preakness finisher Mylute "ran the best race of his career.
"The slow pace was impossible for us to overcome and yet he still ran a very good race. I don't know where the rest of the speed went in yesterday's Preakness. It looked like there was quite a bit on paper, but it just didn't materialize."
Amoss said the son of Midnight Lute, owned by GoldMark Farm and Whisper Hill Farm, has earned a little bit of time off.
"As far as future plans, nothing is on the board right now," he said. "I'll get together with the owners at the beginning of the week and we'll discuss what to do. He's had two races close together and I think that's going to be taken into account when we have that conversation."
Amoss saluted Lukas and Stevens.
"It was a masterful job," Amoss said. "As far as Wayne is concerned, you've got to tip your hat to him. Over the last year he's made a remarkable comeback and put himself where he used to be, which is at the top of the trainers' charts."
Trainer Doug O'Neill's team and fifth-place finisher Goldencents departed early for Southern California. They will not be running in the Belmont Stakes as originally planned, O'Neill said.
"It doesn't make sense to go on to the Belmont," O'Neill said. "We had talked prior [to the Preakness] that if we didn't run huge and came out of it great, we wouldn't come back in three weeks. Even though I'm very proud of him and the way Kevin [Krigger] rode him, I just don't think coming back in three weeks off that effort is the right move."
This time last year, O'Neill was looking for a Triple Crown sweep with I'll Have Another, though the opportunity was lost when the son of Flower Alley injured a leg and was scratched the day before the Belmont.
Goldencents, 17th in the Derby, was unable to keep pace with Oxbow, O'Neill admitted.
"We'll relax and see what's in the cards five, six, seven weeks down the road," O'Neill said. "You've got the 3-year-old series on the turf down at Del Mar, so we could possibly try a different surface with him.
"Or we could go over him good, train him out there, and then look for races like the Haskell or Travers somewhere down the road. We'll huddle up with the owners and put together a game plan. He's a good horse. You'll be hearing from him."
Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider's Departing left early for Kentucky on Sunday following his sixth-place finish.
"He's fine, but he cooled out very tired," trainer Al Stall said.
Stall said the War Front gelding would not be participating in the Belmont Stakes.
Baffert reported that Govenor Charlie was in good shape and would ship back to Southern California along with stablemate Fiftyshadesofhay, the winner of the Black-Eyed Susan.