11/18/2014 2:40PM

Jerardi: D. Wayne Lukas is no stranger at the entry box

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Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Zee Bros wins the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash on Nov. 15 at Laurel Park.

D. Wayne Lukas holds more than a few records – most Triple Crown race wins and most Breeders’ Cup wins, are but two. He may also hold the record for most longshot winners in major stakes. Really, who else wins Breeders’ Cup races at 55-1 (Spain), 32-1 (Cash Run), 19-1 (Cat Thief), and the recent topper at 61-1 (Take Charge Brandi), or Triple Crown races at 31-1 (Charismatic), 24-1 (Thunder Gulch), 18-1 (Commendable), or 15-1 (Oxbow)?

When I saw Zee Bros win last Saturday’s De Francis Dash at 29-1, I wondered if: A) Lukas was betting on some of these horses? and, B) how exactly has this kept happening?

“I bet a little on Take Charge Brandi and Zee Bros, but not enough,” Lukas told me. “It’s never enough.”

He thinks his grandson bet $150 or $200 to win on Take Charge Brandi, and the doctor who saved Jeff Lukas’s life may have bet as much as $500 to win. Do the math.

Lukas mostly bet superfectas in the Take Charge Brandi race.

“I agonized over Wonder Gal, back and forth, and finally took her out,” Lukas said. “It cost me a quarter of a million dollars.”

Wonder Gal finished third. The $1 superfecta paid $97,620. Lukas apparently was betting $5 supers.

So, Zee Bros?

“That colt almost broke the track record at Keeneland his last out,” Lukas said. “I guess they just ignored that.”

That race was a second-level allowance on grass. Zee Bros had not won on dirt since a win in the Chick Lang Stakes at Pimlico on May 18, 2013, when he got a 103 Beyer Speed Figure. It took 18 months, but the colt got up to a 102 Beyer in the De Francis Dash, a number he received when he won his maiden on March 23, 2013. So the ability was always there.

Lukas got the colt late this summer and promptly ran him in the Vosburgh, where finished last, beaten by 34 3/4 lengths. He ran back in the Phoenix and finished last again, beaten by 8 3/4 lengths. Lukas does not get discouraged. He ran him in that grass race and then sent him to Laurel Park.

“I’m sitting in the horsemen’s lounge at Churchill there with about eight or 10 trainers and they said, ‘You’re 25-1,’ ” Lukas recalled.

He told them: “I think I’m going to win this race. I think he’s better than these horses. Those guys got up and bet $20, $30 each, and, sure enough, it was like we won the Breeders’ Cup when he hit the wire.”

So, why all the longshot winners?

“I put emphasis on [big races],” Lukas said. “I’ve always thought my clientele want to look good on the day everybody’s watching.”

Lukas said he “kept trying to figure out what I was doing wrong with [Take Charge Brandi] that she would not finish. Then, I changed up a few things and, sure enough, boom.”

Lukas would not reveal what was changed with Take Charge Brandi, but did say “we analyze why they lose and we analyze why they win. We go back over our charts, we look at what we did two weeks out, three weeks out.”

The gospel according to Lukas is “finding out what they can’t do and then applying what they can do.”

Unlike his protégé Todd Pletcher, Lukas is not about taking his time between races. That Keeneland win was Zee Bros’s third race in 21 days.

“I found early in my career that when they’re good, run ’em, and when they’re not, it doesn’t make any difference,” Lukas said. “What happens to a lot of guys is that they will get a horse real good and say, ‘I’m going to put ’em away for a couple of months and point for Race B or A.’ And then that one comes up and they either don’t run well or they don’t run at all. I always say to those young guys, if he’s training well ‘get in the entry box.’ ”

And that may be the key to all the Lukas longshots. He gets in the entry box, especially for the races with all those zeros at the end.

“They don’t pay you in the morning,” Lukas said. “They pay you in the afternoon at 5:30.”

They do, indeed. And they also pay the true Lukas believers in these big races. You are going to have to get used to disappointment and long droughts, but that return on investment is not imaginary.