What two former Quarter Horse trainers -- D. Wayne Lukas and Bob Baffert -- have managed to accomplish in Thoroughbred racing is truly phenomenal.
Lukas has won the Kentucky Derby, the most coveted American race in Thoroughbred racing, four times (Winning Colors in 1988, Thunder Gulch in 1995, Grindstone in 1996 and Charismatic in 1999). Lukas not only is the all-time leader in Triple Crown race wins (14), he also ranks No. 1 all-time in Breeders’ Cup victories (20).
Lukas has not won Thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown. However, there was “Lukas Triple Crown sweep” in 1995. Lukas that year became the first trainer to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont in the same year with two different horses, Thunder Gulch and Timber Country.
Even more remarkably, during one stretch in the 1990s, Lukas trained the winner of six consecutive Triple Crown races. His run of success began with Tabasco Cat in the 1994 Preakness and concluded with Grindstone in the 1996 Kentucky Derby.
Lukas has been voted an Eclipse Award as outstanding trainer four times (1985, 1986, 1987 and 1994). He was inducted into Thoroughbred racing’s Hall of Fame in 1999.
Bob Baffert, like Lukas, has won the Kentucky Derby four times (Silver Charm in 1997, Real Quiet in 1998, War Emblem in 2002 and American Pharoah in 2015). Moreover, Baffert has indeed won Thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown, one of the most difficult achievements in all of sports, having accomplished the feat in 2015 with American Pharoah. Baffert has a total of 12 Triple Crown race victories to his credit.
Baffert, like Lukas, has been voted an Eclipse Award as outstanding trainer four times (1997, 1998, 1999 and 2015). Baffert, like Lukas, is a member of Thoroughbred racing’s Hall of Fame, having been enshrined in 2009.
The ex-Quarter Horse conditioners each had a noteworthy victory by a 3-year-old Thoroughbred last week. First, it was Lukas winning Saturday’s Grade II Risen Star at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots with Bravazo, who pulled off a 21-1 upset in the 1 1/16-mile event by a whisker over 41-1 longshot Snapper Sinclair.
The following day at Santa Anita Park, Baffert unleashed Justify, who had people buzzing with a dazzling 9 1/2-length debut triumph in a seven-furlong maiden special weight affair. The Scat Daddy colt not only posted an excellent final time of 1:21.86, he did so rather effortlessly.
Baffert has demonstrated that he is fully aware of what a horse is up against historically in terms of trying to win the Kentucky Derby without having raced as a 2-year-old. On Steve Byk’s radio program At the Races last Dec. 11, Baffert was cognizant of trying, if at all possible, to get his unraced 2-year-old colts a start before Jan. 1 to avoid bucking history when it comes to the Kentucky Derby.
“We have to get that 2-year-old start in,” Baffert said in an obvious reference to the fact no horse has won the Kentucky Derby without have started at 2 since Apollo in 1882. “[Santa Anita] should have like 10 maiden races [for 2-year-olds] before January 1. But there’s only two in the [condition] book. So we’re jammin’. We’ve got to get ’em in.”
Though Justify did not race at 2 and his trainer is aware of the fact that it means the colt is up against it big-time historically vis-a-vis the Kentucky Derby, Baffert indicated in comments last Sunday attributed to him after the colt’s marvelous debut performance that an attempt to win the roses on May 5 with Justify seemingly is justified.
“It’s not too late,” Baffert was quoted as saying. “I’ve got a plan…We’re looking [for a graded stakes race]. He’s shown his brilliance in the morning.”
Justify’s brilliance certainly was exhibited last Sunday afternoon. He was assigned a 104 Beyer Speed Figure, highest by a 3-year-old this year. These are the Beyers of 95 or better by a 3-year-old male or female so far this year:
104 Justify (seven furlongs Santa Anita on Feb. 18)
99 Audible (1 1/16 miles Gulfstream Park on Feb. 3)
99 Kanthaka (seven furlongs Santa Anita on Feb. 10)
99 Mourinho (one mile Oaklawn Park on Jan. 15)
98 McKinzie (one mile Santa Anita on Jan. 6)
97 Ax Man (seven furlongs Santa Anita on Jan. 1)
97 King Humor (5 1/2 furlongs Gulfsream Park on Feb. 2)
97 World of Trouble (seven furlongs at Tampa Bay Downs on Jan. 20)
96 Mitole (six furlongs at Oaklawn Park on Feb. 3)
95 Magnum Moon (six furlongs at Gulstream Park on Jan. 13)
Bafftert trains four of the 10 on the above list: Justify, Mourinho, McKinzie and Ax Man.
McKinzie had a terrific workout last Saturday morning at Santa Anita, six furlongs in a bullet 1:12.60. The second-fastest of the 18 works at six furlongs that morning was 1:13.80 by What a View, a 7-year-old gelding who is a Grade I stakes winner on the grass.
Private clocker Toby Turrell said Sunday on Mike Willman’s radio program Thoroughbred Los Angeles that McKinzie was “very impressive” in his workout. McKinzie, Turrell said, “came down the lane just as fluent as can be” and “looked great.”
McKinzie remains atop my Kentucky Derby Top 10 list this week. I had said last week that if Instilled Regard “failed to get the job done in the Risen Star, you can bet that I will be moving him down on my Kentucky Derby Top 10.”
Instilled Regard was in a perfect position at the top of the stretch in the Risen Star to win it as the 7-5 favorite. But he just did not have any punch in the lane and finished fourth. Hence, as promised, I have moved Instilled Regard down on my Kentucky Derby list after he was No. 2 last week.
Here is my Kentucky Derby Top 10 for this week:
- Good Magic
- Bolt d’Oro
- Instilled Regard
- Catholic Boy
- Avery Island
- My Boy Jack
- Sporting Chance
A LUKAS UPSET IS NOTHING NEW
Because Lukas has been such a successful trainer, I am rather surprised that he has been able to register so many upsets in stakes races over the years.
In the Thoroughbred game, Lukas’ notable stakes upsets began with the 1980 Santa Anita Derby. Codex prevailed by a neck and paid $52.60 for a $2 win ticket.
Codex was not nominated to the Kentucky Derby. In those days, when a horse had not been nominated to the Kentucky Derby, the horse could not be entered because there were no supplementary nominations, unlike how it is now.
Genuine Risk won the Run for the Roses that year, only the second filly to do so. The great Regret not only became the first filly to capture the Kentucky Derby in 1915, she won the 1 1/4-mile classic while making her first start of the year!
Codex did win the Preakness -- a very controversial Preakness -- by 4 3/4 lengths with Angel Cordero Jr. in the saddle. Genuine Risk, the 2-1 favorite ridden by Jacinto Vasquez, finished second.
Joe Hirsch wrote in the American Racing Manual:
“As Codex passed the point of the turn, entering the stretch, Cordero turned in the saddle and spotted Genuine Risk. He then guided Codex out to a point just inside the filly and carried her even wider than she would have gone on her own momentum, while swinging his whip vigorously on the right side. There was light brushing, the filly’s head seemed to nod sharply as though struck, and she lost her momentum for an instant. Gamely she recovered, pursued Codex to the wire, but the battle was lost by a margin of 4 3/4 lengths. Codex, who ran a big race, missed the Pimlico record for 1 3/16 miles by only a fifth of a second with his 1:54 1/5. Colonel Moran was third, 3 1/4 lengths behind Genuine Risk.
“Incredibly, the Pimlico stewards failed to post the ‘inquiry’ sign, though many in the record crowd of 83,455, and millions of television viewers, were aware there had been an incident. Vasquez claimed foul, however, and the stewards deliberated at length before the Preakness result was declared official.”
“Thousands of fans bombarded the Pimlico stewards with telegrams and phone calls, deploring Cordero’s roughhouse tactics and the failure of the stewards to disqualify Codex. There was some sentiment that Codex was obviously best and that it is unfair to penalize the horse for the actions of his rider.”
Genuine Risk’s owner, Mrs. Bert Firestone, filed an appeal with the Maryland Racing Commission. Eighteen days after the race was run, the commission upheld the stewards’ decision not to disqualify Codex.
Genuine Risk would go on to also finish second in the Belmont Stakes won by Temperence Hill. That meant the filly won or ran second in each of the three Triple Crown events, quite an accomplishment.
Ever since Codex in 1980, Lukas-trained horses have been popping up from time to time at juicy odds in Thoroughbred stakes races. Here is a list of notable upsets registered by a Lukas trainee:
61-1 Take Charge Brandi (2014 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies)
55-1 Spain (2000 Breeders’ Cup Distaff)
32-1 Cash Run (1999 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies)
31-1 Charismatic (1999 Kentucky Derby)
29-1 Stellar Jayne (2004 Mother Goose)
28-1 Will Take Charge (2013 Rebel)
25-1 Codex (1980 Santa Anita Derby)
24-1 Skyring (2013 Dixie)
24-1 Thunder Gulch (1995 Kentucky Derby)
21-1 Bravazo (2018 Risen Star)
19-1 Cat Thief (1999 Breeders’ Cup Classic)
18-1 Commendable (2000 Belmont)
18-1 Harlan (1994 Vosburgh)
15-1 Oxbow (2013 Preakness)
15-1 Hightail (2012 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint)
12-1 Cape Town (1998 Florida Derby)
12-1 Honour and Glory (1996 Met Mile)
11-1 Scorpion (2001 Jim Dandy)
9-1 Is It True (1988 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile)
LUKAS AND BAFFERT CAN’T WIN ’EM ALL
Baffert sent out Mourinho, the 6-5 favorite, in Monday’s Grade III Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Lukas was represented by Sporting Chance, the 9-2 second choice in the wagering. Mourinho was coming off a 3 1/4-length victory in Oaklawn’s Smarty Jones Stakes on Jan. 15. Sporting Chance was making his first start since winning the Grade I Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga last Sept. 4.
But in this instance, neither Baffert nor Lukas was victorious.
My Boy Jack, flattering the horse ranked No. 1 on my Kentucky Derby list, rallied in the stretch along the inside rail (which seemed to be a very good spot to be on the muddy Oaklawn oval) to get the lead with about a furlong to go and drew away to win by 4 1/2 lengths at 8-1 for the Desormeaux brothers.
Ridden by Hall of Famer Kent Desormeaux and trained by Keith Desormeaux, My Boy Jack had done all of his racing at Santa Anita and Del Mar prior to the Southwest. The Kentucky-bred Creative Cause colt’s single stakes victory at 2 came in Santa Anita’s Zuma Beach Stakes on the grass last Oct. 9. In his final start of the year, My Boy Jack finished seventh in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Del Mar on Nov. 3.
In My Boy Jack’s lone 2018 start before the Southwest, he finished third, 7 1/2 lengths behind McKinzie, in Santa Anita’s Sham Stakes on the dirt Jan. 6.
During the many years I was a Daily Racing Form chart-caller, one of my duties was to assign mud marks to horses. If you look at an old Racing Form, you sometimes will see an asterisk, an X or an X in a circle next to a horse’s name in the past performances. The asterisk signified a “fair” mud runner, an X a “good” mud runner and an X in a circle a “superior” mud runner. The last “superior” mud mark that I ever assigned was to two-time Eclipse Award winner Bayakoa.
If I were still in the mud-mark business, I would be tempted to assign a “trainer mud mark” to Keith Desormeaux. He sure seems to have a knack of winning rich races on wet tracks, such as the $500,000 Southwest with My Boy Jack.
This same trainer won four races worth $1 million or more on wet tracks with Exaggerator: $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot on a muddy track in 2015, $1 million Santa Anita Derby on a sloppy track in 2016, $1.5 million Preakness on a sloppy track in 2016 and $1 million Haskell Invitational on a sloppy track in 2016.
Combatant ran second in last Saturday’s Southwest after also having finished second in both the Springboard Mile at Remington Park on Dec. 17 and the recent Smarty Jones at Oaklawn. Sporting Chance ended up third in the Southwest, while pacesetting Mourinho weakened in the stretch and came in fourth.
Baffert did not win the Southwest. But did he still win a stakes race victory Monday with a 3-year-old colt? Heck yeah. Making it three wins from as many career starts, Heck Yeah took Monday’s 1 1/16-mile California Derby for California-bred or California-sired sophomores as a 4-5 favorite at Santa Anita. He was assigned a 74 Beyer Speed Figure. Heck Yeah is a son of Acclamation, who was voted a 2011 Eclipse Award as champion older male.
THE LATEST NTRA POLLS
This is this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
- 380 West Coast (22)
- 314 World Approval
- 241 Unique Bella (2)
- 219 Roy H (1)
- 196 Forever Unbridled
- 193 Gun Runner (14)
- 126 Abel Tasman
- 126 Gunnevera
- 92 Sharp Azteca
- 71 Beach Patrol
Here is this week’s NTRA Top 3-Year-Old Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
- 379 Good Magic (25)
- 334 Bolt d’Oro (12)
- 311 McKinzie (3)
- 229 Audible
- 190 Solomini
- 128 Avery Island
- 91 Catholic Boy
- 86 Flameaway
- 81 Bravazo
- 74 My Boy Jack