Doing it Wayne's Way
By Kenny Rice
Special to ESPN.com
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas is the closest thing racing will ever have to Frank Sinatra. Just as there will never be another Ol' Blue Eyes, there will never be another D. Wayne.
After having his record 20-straight Kentucky Derby streak stopped last year, Lukas returns in 2002 with Proud Citizen, the 8-1 winner of the Coolmore Lexington Stakes, a horse who prior to that victory, wasn't even a blip on most observers' Derby radar.
For a man who had a brief career as a college basketball coach, the Kentucky Derby is the Final Four. It is so important for him to be therethat there have been years he has entered some questionable candidates -- Deeds Not Words in 1997 immediately comes to mind. The streak was kept alive that year, but the horse ran last, ultimately proving he wasn't Derby worthy. But Lukas wasn't worthy either ... of the highly personal and vindictive criticism he received from some members of the media. Listening to them, it was as if Lukas had permanently tainted the race he clearly values above all others. And by the way, this is an area Wayne clearly differs from Sinatra, for Lukas has yet to punch a member of the press corps, though the thought has surely crossed his mind.
Doing it Wayne's way has always been unconventional, and sometimes controversial.
Overbrook Farm owner W.T. Young told me after his Boston Harbor won the 1996 Breeders' Cup Juvenile, "Wayne doesn't play golf, doesn't have a hobby. His passion is his work and he pushes himself harder than any horse. When I started in this business, I researched intensely and the one name that came up for me to deal with as a trainer was Lukas."
Young's Cat Thief was a $41.20 longshot winner of the 1999 Breeders' Cup Classic, yet another time Lukas was at his best when overlooked. It's a role he seems to relish: getting the big win with the forgotten horse -- a Derby with Thunder Gulch or Charismatic, a Belmont with Commendable or a Breeders' Cup Distaff with Spain.
And even though she was far from a long shot, Lukas is one of only three trainers to win the Kentucky Derby with a filly, when Winning Colors wired the field in 1988 for his first garland of roses.
Never count him out, because he always seems to find a way to win.
Lukas' career appeared to be over after top client Eugene Klein passed away. Klein, a one-time owner of the San Diego Chargers, was the cash behind early Lukas successes like 1986 Horse of the Year Lady's Secret, and of course, Winning Colors. But Lukas survived, teaming with Calumet Farm to campaign another Horse of the Year in 1990, Criminal Type. When that farm went bankrupt, it appeared Lukas might go down with it. Instead, he roared back to dominate the 1990's, a decade that culminated with his induction into the Hall of Fame.
Does Proud Citizen have a shot at winning the Derby? Of course not. Will Citizen Wayne take that as insult? Never. He's back in the role he loves the most