The city of Lousville, Ky. — Cowboy with his hat set, D. Wayne Lukas ran away from the winning circle to greet the media. On this route, he bowed himself using a cane, among the Hall of Fame trainer’s few concessions to the aging process.
At the age of 86, Lukas had just earned his record-setting fifth victory during the $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks and first since 1990. Lukas’ filly Secret Oath, scored two lengths to win in the Kentucky Oaks on Friday Churchill Downs.
“When you’re 86 and going to be 87 within a few months, you’re aware that there’s many of them around you,” Lukas said. “I am a fan of the competitiveness in the arena.”
Rob Mitchell, who owns Secret Oath with wife Stacy was able to remind everyone: “He hasn’t forgotten how to properly train the horse.”
Lukas started his career in the training of quarter horses. He had the best of his time for 10 years before moving to thoroughbreds.
In the process the barn was staffed in the same manner as the basketball coach he was in his home state of Wisconsin. He hired and recruited youngsters, and shared his method of how to train thoroughbreds with high strung and then took his assistants out to work on the road while he managed things in California.
“A number of good records were smashed and lots of positive things took place,” Lukas said.
They weren’t taught to identify horses. Lukas stressed discipline, proper grooming, precise dressing in addition to keeping the barn clean. Lukas was a staunch advocate of discipline, good grooming and hy Churchill Downs barn remains that way to this day and has a large bouquet of red roses on the outside in Derby week.
He set the bar during the 80s and the ’90s for being among the very first trainers with different divisions of horses racing and winningregularly all the way from California up to New York. The first trainer who earned more than 100 million dollars in prize cash and has a record of fourteen Triple Crown race victories, and his Breeders’ Cup wins are also among the top. At the height of his career there were more than 160 horses training.
Lukas has been a victim of detractors throughout his career, and has been accused of being a bit eccentric in his methods.
Lukas One-time opponent, Bob Baffert, was a spectator at the Oaks on TV. Baffert was banned to two years in the eyes of Churchill Downs after his 2021 Derby winner Medina Spirit failed an after-race test for drugs.
“It was an emotional moment to watch Wayne take home the win” Baffert wrote in an email for The Associated Press. “Wayne was always the highest bar for racing. I’ve been awestruck by him throughout my entire career. When I saw that the trainer was going to take the win I was overwhelmed with excitement for him. To me it’s clear that he’s one of the greatest trainers of all time.”
Secret Oath has a sister named Arrogate the horse that Baffert helped to win at three of the most prestigious races The Breeders’ Cup Classic, Dubai World Cup and the Pegasus World Cup. Arrogate was awarded the Eclipse Award as 3-year-old of the year 2016.
Todd Pletcher, who was 2nd in the Oaks and waited in the tunnel to greet his old trainer. He went on to become an Hall of Fame trainer himself.
“I’m extremely satisfied to be a part of Wayne,” Pletcher said. “If I was not able to win the race, I was cheering for Wayne.”
The same was the case for Brad Cox, who finished seventh.
“Will I win the Oaks at the age of 86? I’m sure that happens,” he said.
Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen who was fourth, stated, “Lukas winning the Oaks was much better than any other thing I’ve ever done. It’s a stunning moment for Wayne absolutely deserving of an amazing mare.”
Lukas was able to watch this race in a seat with one of his former mentees the trainer Dallas Stewart, who put his hand on Lukas his arm while Secret Oath closed in on the finishing line.
“We have made some wonderful friendships through these horses” Lukas said.
Lukas was with his wife Laurie and his grandsons Brady as well as Kelly. They had a father named Jeff is Lukas the sole child from his marriage to Laurie. He passed away in the year 2016 29 years after he was run over by the horse of his father who was loose in the stables at Santa Anita in California. Jeff sustained permanent injuries that put him out of work with his father.
On Friday night, Lukas scratched his Kentucky Derby horse earlier in the day. Ethereal Road was a 30-1 longshot that drew the post to the outside of the 20 horse field.
“You must be able to know how to read a horses,” he said. “Ethereal Road was not as sharp or focussed as he was during this week.”
Lukas stable isn’t the powerhouse it once was for the past few years. He was able to recover from COVID-19 in the year 2020. He still takes a pony to take his horses on the track before dawn for workouts. He has become more relaxed from his days of hard-charging and has even written poems.
“I think of him as the legend he is,” winning jockey Luis Saez stated. “Like someone who was a true fan of the sport, and dedicated his entire lives to this sport. This is what we must do. Everyone should be doing it because we are passionate about horses and the sport.”