06/11/2006 11:00PM

It's No Joke drops after stakes flops


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - As a card-carrying member of the club informally known as the Successful Trainers Who Worked for D. Wayne Lukas, Becky Maker had a natural rooting interest Saturday in the Belmont Stakes: any combination of Jazil, Bluegrass Cat, and Sunriver.

Sure enough, Maker nailed it. "I picked it one-two," she said.

Jazil, trained by former Lukas assistant Kiaran McLaughlin, won the Belmont over Bluegrass Cat and Sunriver, both trained by another Lukas protege, Todd Pletcher. In the early 1990's, when Maker began working as an exercise rider for Lukas, McLaughlin already had gone out on his own, but she later worked for another former Lukas pupil, Dallas Stewart, and had a short stint under Pletcher before starting her own public stable in April 2002.

In all, it was nearly 10 years that Maker worked under some variation of the Lukas banner. Now, as an established trainer with 30 horses in her care at Arlington Park, Maker is doing her part to perpetuate the legacy. Wednesday, Maker will be back at her old stomping grounds of Churchill Downs to saddle the likely favorite, It's No Joke, for the feature race, a $62,000, third-level allowance at one mile.

went on a tear last fall and winter by winning 3 of 4 starts, after which he finished a close third behind Harlington in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap on March 4. It's No Joke was then drubbed by Buzzards Bay in the Oaklawn Handicap on April 8 and by Wanderin Boy in the Ben Ali Handicap on April 27, leading Maker to back off.

"He needed me to back up a little and get his focus back," she said. "His work in the morning has shown me he's getting his confidence back. If he performs well Wednesday, like I think he's going to, we'll probably look for another stakes for him, although I probably won't be quite as aggressive."

It's No Joke, with Jesus Castanon to ride, will break from the outside post in a field of eight entered in the eighth of nine Wednesday races. One of his main challengers is a Lukas-trained colt, Going Wild, who starts right alongside in post 7.

The rest of the field is Skin Flint, Esprit du Roi, He's Mine, First Word, Copy My Notes, and Chippewa Trail.

- The weekly handicapping contest, held in the Joe Hirsch Media Center on the sixth floor, will cover races 3 through 8. The finals are set for July 12.