In different ways, Oxbow and Will Take Charge ran creditably in the Kentucky Derby for trainer D. Wayne Lukas, although both colts finished out of the money.
“They both had a chance to be part of the equation if they had got little different scenarios,’’ Lukas said.
Oxbow raced close to a fast pace and made a bid for the lead along the rail on the final turn before tiring the stretch, finishing sixth.
“The pace for Oxbow was killing, yet he stayed around,’’ Lukas said. “He’s a gutsy little horse.’’
Late-running Will Take Charge settled more than 13 lengths off the lead after a half-mile. After making a move with eventual winner Orb on the final turn, Will Take Charge lost momentum when checked behind fading Verrazano inside the quarter pole before finishing eighth.
“If we don’t get in trouble, we’re probably second,’’ Lukas said as Will Take Charge was jogging on the Pimlico track Wednesday morning. “This horse is 17 hands tall. They don’t stop and start. Oxbow (a smaller horse) probably would have handled that probably better than this one.’’
Only a fool wouldn’t pay attention to Lukas’ analysis of a race, particularly a Triple Crown race. With 13 victories in Triple Crown races, Lukas is tied with fellow Hall of Famer Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons for the most all-time by a trainer.
An amazing record is Lukas’ six consecutive wins in Triple Crown races – starting with Tabasco Cat’s Preakness victory in 1994 and ending with Grindstone’s Derby win in 1996. Lukas had a 7-for-8 run in the Triple Crown races when Editor’s Note won the Belmont in 1996.
That run included a sweep for Lukas of the 1995 Triple Crown races with two horses – Thunder Gulch, who won the Derby and Belmont, and Timber Country, who won the Preakness.
Running Oxbow, Will Take Charge and Titletown Five in this Preakness, Lukas is seeking his sixth win in the second jewel of the Triple Crown. Two of his Preakness victories – with Tank’s Prospect in 1985 and Tabasco Cat – came with horses who had run out of the money in the Kentucky Derby.
Tabasco Cat, who finished sixth in the Derby, “hit the gate two or three times,’’ Lukas said. “The horse next to him threw a fit, and he was such a high-strung horse, he wouldn’t stand there and take that. If he had come away good, I think maybe he could have won all three.’’
Lukas acknowledges that Orb will be tough to beat in this Preakness.
“He has to come back to us a little bit,’’ Lukas said. “We have to move forward. Having said that, I feel very comfortable. I’m not running for second. That’s not my style.’’
He said he doesn’t go into a race with the idea of being a spoiler.
“I don’t think of that,’’ he said. “As a trainer, you’re thinking more or less of achieving something for a clientele. You don’t run against the other guy or even the other horse. You’re pretty much centered on your own program.’’
But Lukas’ respect for the Orb camp – trainer Shug McGaughey and owners Stuart Janney III and the Phipps Stable – is strong.
“Good people,’’ Lukas said. “I said before the race, the karma might be too much to overcome – Shug and Stuart. I told Dinny (Phipps) that in the paddock before the race: ‘The karma’s too great here. You’re going to win the damn thing.’’’
The Derby victory – the first for McGaughey and the owners – was was one of the most popular among horsemen that Lukas could recall. He compared the victory to elderly owner Francis Genter’s win with Unbridled in the Derby in 1990.
“I went back and Jeff was real despondent,’’ Lukas said of that race, in which Lukas ran three horses who finished out of the money. “He was in the track room. I said, ‘Jeff, we weren’t supposed to win today. It was not supposed to happen. … Let’s just throw them the bouquets and go from there.’’
Karma might still be with Orb, Lukas said.
“It might apply to the whole Triple Crown,’’ he said. “If you believe in karma, it’s down there (He motioned toward Orb’s area in the stakes barn). But Shug has done a tremendous job with that horse. …
“I have great respect for the way that horse is going to show up. If you watch the video on his work this week, now that’s as pretty a work as a Derby horse going into the Preakness can do, in my opinion, and I don’t train him, but that work was something else. I thought he went in 49 or 50, and threw up that number (47.18 seconds for a half-mile).’’
Lukas’ Preakness horses, who arrived Tuesday after riding in a van from Kentucky, went to the Pimlico track Wednesday for the first time. Lukas said he liked what he saw.
“I was pleasantly surprised this morning, really,’’ he said. “I did a little with them, just jogged them, tried to get their energy level up. But they were excellent this morning. I was really surprised with how well they shipped.’’
The three horses have had different racing schedules.
Oxbow has made more starts (five) than any of the nine Preakness horses, yet in his exercise Wednesday, he showed his usual exuberance for his job.
After Will Take Charge won the Rebel at Oaklawn Park in mid-March, Lukas didn’t run him again until the Kentucky Derby. The freshening might pay dividends in the Preakness, Lukas said.
“I thought it helped me with the seven-week break before the Derby,’’ he said. “I thought I was in pretty good shape. I didn’t see any letdown. …
“I was comfortable after the race that I gave him that seven weeks. Now I’ve got a pretty fresh horse that only got to run about a mile, so I might be dangerous here.’’
Titletown Five, owned by a partnership including former Green Bay Packers legends Paul Hornung and Willie Davis, hasn’t raced finishing since finishing fourth in the Derby Trial on April 27.
“Given the right scenario and the right ride, he’s pretty darn talented,’’ Lukas said of Titletown Five, who as a maiden finished in front of Orb in a race at Saratoga. “He’s got a high cruising speed. You see him on the racetrack, he may be the best mover of the nine who are going to run here.’’
Titletown Five, who faded to ninth in the Louisiana Derby, raced too close to the pace in that race and the Derby Trial, Lukas said.
“I really don’t want him on the lead,’’ Lukas said. “He’s not as one-dimensional as his form is going to show up to be.’’