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Lukas going for Derby record, but this will be a daunting mission
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D. Wayne Lukas has already broken most Kentucky Derby records, and he’ll shatter another two—and maybe more—on Saturday.

The trainer considered the sport’s elder statesman will saddle Will Take Charge and Oxbow in Saturday’s Derby. The colts will be Lukas’ 46th and 47th Derby starters, the most of any trainer in the race’s 138-year history.

He has won it four times, the last in 1999, and a fifth blanket of roses would place him in a clear second for Derby wins, behind only Ben Jones who had six. At 77, Lukas would also be the oldest trainer to win the Derby.

“This isn’t exactly On Golden Pond we’re dealing with here. This is the Kentucky Derby,” Lukas said. “I think there is more in front of me, especially the way Calumet (owner of Oxbow) is building up and some of the clientele we’re getting. Each Derby is a separate identity and a separate moment. I just want to win a couple more.”

But to get there, one of his two colts will have to maneuver through a daunting field ototalling 19 Thoroughbreds, about half of them legitimate contenders. The field was reduced from 20 with this morning’s scratch of Black Onyx.

Lukas grew up in Antigo, honed his early training skills at the Langlade County Fairgrounds’ oval and still counts many friends and several relatives in the area. When he saddled his first Derby starter in 1981 he was a young upstart. Now, 32 years later, he is as much a part of the Derby scene as Mint Juleps and over-the-top hats.

“I don’t feel any different than when I came in here at age 50. There’s still the adrenaline rush. There’s still the enthusiasm,” Lukas said. “The horse is the most important ingredient. You better have the horse and then some luck.”

Oxbow, at 30-1, drew the unenviable two hole in the start gate, and will need to break sharply under Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens to keep from being trapped on the rail and likely out of the running before it even happens. But the defection of Black Onyx to his inside means that stal will be empty, giving the Lukas colt a bit of extra room.

Will Take Charge, at 20-1 and with Jon Court aboard, drew an outside post in number 17.

One Lukas horse that will stay in the barn is Titletown Five, owned in part by Green Bay Packer great Paul Hornung. The colt finished fourth in the Derby Trial last Saturday and it was a race he had to win to make the field.

Oxbow is a tough, scrappy colt that has been embraced by handicappers. He will certainly be in the mix early if he can break cleanly. But the flashy, 17-hand Will Take Charge may be the Lukas entry more likely to get to the winner’s circle. His best hope is to settle mid-pack, and make a sustained stretch run, picking off the early “rabbits” and make a drive toward the wire.

“I think these two fit this year, this field, this scenario pretty well,” Lukas said. “I’m comfortable where I’m at with my horses. Whether they’re good enough, we’ll find out.”

Four horses pose the biggest threat to keep Lukas from the record books.

—Revolutionary, the Journal’s pick, comes in off a win in the Louisiana Derby. Post number three isn’t ideal, but he’s being ridden by the best rail jockey in the country: Calvin Borel. Odds are 10-1.

—Orb, the pre-race favorite, has much to like, winning the Florida Derby in his last start. A spectacular looking horse, he will be running late. Odds are 7-2 .

—Goldencents, trained by last year’s Derby winner, has the highest speed rating in the field. He will be on the lead early and the question will be if he can maintain the pace for the full mile and a quarter.

—Verrazano, the second morning line choice at 4-1, odds that will likely drop like a rock as the race approaches, when he will be the likely favorite. The horse is a perfect four-for-four and jockey John Velazquez elected to ride him rather than Orb. If he breaks cleanly from the number 14 chute, he could wire the field.

Others to watch include the gray colt Mylute, with Rosie Napravnik aboard at odds of 15-1; Frac Daddy, another gray, who already has a win and a place over the Churchill oval; and Garrett “Go-Go” Gomez aboard Vyjack, who will break from the far outside at odds of 15-1. Vyjack is also a proven winner on an off track and Saturday’s forecast calls for rain.

The “rabbits,” horses who will start fast and likely fade, include Palace Malice, Itsmyluckyday, and Falling Sky. On paper, the race simply looks too tough for the rest of the field, which includes Golden Soul, Normandy Invasion, Giant Finish, the European Lines of Battle, Charming Kitten, the very late-running Java’s War and the aptly-named Overanalyze, which Lukas said race-watchers spent too much time doing.

“We overanalyze this all the time,” Lukas said, referring to horses’ positions in the gate or after the break. “ Everyone gets too involved, and we overanalyze it too much.”
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D. Wayne Lukas and jockey Gary Stevens at Churchill Downs. They are teaming up with Oxbow in Saturday's Kentucky Derby.
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JOURNAL
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Phone: 715-623-4191
Fax: 715-623-4193
Mail to: Fred Berner
MapOnUs Location: (local)

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