LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Standing outside of his barn at Churchill Downs, leaning against a temporary fence that seems more invitation that blockade, D. Wayne Lukas is as much a Kentucky Derby fixture as spilled bourbon and bad bets.
The Derby takes thousands of horses in their 3-year-old years and whittles them down to a field of 20 through a series of races run across the country, and no trainer has been there at the end more often than Lukas. His two starters entered in Saturday’s race, 30-1 Oxbow and 20-1 Will Take Charge, would be his 46th and 47th. Lukas, 77, is tied with Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons for the most Triple Crown wins of all time with 13.
But he has not won a Kentucky Derby since 1999, with Charismatic. His last Triple Crown victory came when Commendable took the Belmont Stakes in 2000.
He claimed Thursday that 35 of the horses he entered in the Derby were pushed into the race by owners, against his advice, and didn’t have a chance to win.
And of course he also said that this year’s pair weren’t included in that pack.
“They began showing me in February that they could fit this race,” he said.
Will Take Charge won the Rebel at Oaklawn Park by a head over Oxbow in March and hasn’t raced since. Lukas can sound as confident as any trainer anywhere when he wants to, but he is still unsure of how his strategy for Will Take Charge, with Jon Cort riding and starting from the No. 17 post, will play out.
“I thought it would be better to let him grow into himself, maybe use some of that nutrition to go into developing his body strength,” Lukas said. “I don’t know if I can pull this off.”
Oxbow hasn’t won since January and was fifth in the Arkansas Derby.