Tuesday's musings, opinions and declarations of D. Wayne Lukas were as close to the delivery of a keynote address for Saturday's 145th Belmont Stakes as anything thoroughbred racing has to offer. Listen:
There will be another Triple Crown winner, Lukas said, "when we get a standout horse in a mediocre year." And possibly if the Kentucky Derby were to insist upon fewer entrants.
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"The Derby, with 20-horse fields, is such a rough race now," Lukas said. "In the '50s, '60s and '70s, you were running against six to eight horses; that's a whole different deal. When you put 'em out there with 20, boy, it takes its toll. There's no place in the race to get a breather. They're on you all the time. And to come back in two weeks . . . "
Furthermore, modern breeders "are breeding more for speed and conformation, because that's what sells," Lukas said, "and that's not necessarily a Belmont horse."
For now, then, the best we can do is having the winners of the Kentucky Derby (Orb) and Preakness (Lukas-trained Oxbow) providing a pre-Belmont story line. And wonder if Lukas, at 77, can add to his record number of victories in Triple Crown events, boosted to 14 at the Preakness.
His longevity, he said, is because, "I outlasted the bastards." Plus, he believes his ability to spot potential champions, and then to get horses ready "mentally" -- through close monitoring and reading their behavioral quirks -- are his secrets to success.
"That's what I do best," he said. "I only bought six horses last year, and three are in the Triple Crown [races]. Two of them are going to run in all three legs."
He wouldn't cap the number of Derby entrants. "We're selling a dream and I wouldn't deny anyone." He knows the Triple Crown schedule never will change to give trainers more time; rather, he'll pay attention to the fact that "you get to the point where pedigree is important, in the Belmont more than any other race."
Besides, at this stage, he can't lose, really. "Whatever legacy we've developed, so be it," he said. "I'm comfortable. When you're younger, you think you have to prove to everybody every day that you can train a racehorse. I don't have any of those feelings anymore.
"I'm not saying I'm complacent, but I handle it better. I handle the losing better, too. I enjoy it in a more subtle way."
Lukas claims that he "doesn't care about the records," and said that the tapes and DVDs, provided by the television networks, of his triumphs in the Triple Crown races "all are in my office, on a shelf, and the cellophane isn't broken on any of them. I've never plugged one in and played it. I could [not] care less once it's over."
But he did make a point of saying he doesn't believe anyone ever will equal his six straight Triple Crown series victories with four different horses from 1994 to 1996.
He compares his job to training human athletes, which he did for 10 years as a high school basketball coach. He calls his strategy discussions with jockeys "suggestions" rather than instructions. "A football coach," he said, "can tell the quarterback to throw it over the middle, but when the sideline is wide open, he's got to wing it out there.
"Great coaches like [Bill] Belichick know what Tom Brady can and can't do. In 50 years, I've learned to read pretty good."