04/09/2012 1:39PM

Kentucky Derby 2012: Under the Radar - Optimizer

Barbara D. Livingston
Optimizer is trained by four-time Kentucky Derby winner D. Wayne Lukas.

Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas is a four-time Kentucky Derby winner and is tied with legendary trainer Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons for most Triple Crown race victories (13). He has won 18 Breeders’ Cup races, owns four Eclipse Awards for outstanding trainer and was the first trainer to earn more than $100 million in purse money. Simply put, Lukas is one of the greatest conditioners of high-quality Thoroughbreds of all time.

At 76, Lukas could be forgiven if he decided to slow down his training operation, but the man’s work ethic won’t allow him to take a break. In 2011, he won the Oaklawn Park training title and he is always on the prowl for another 3-year-old that can take him back to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby.

If Optimizer runs well in Saturday’s Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn, Lukas may have yet another Kentucky Derby starter.

Optimizer was foaled in Kentucky on March 8, 2009. He is from the first crop of English Channel, the champion turf male of 2007. English Channel raced exclusively on turf during his 23-race career. He won at distances ranging from 1 1/16 miles to 12 furlongs and prevailed in such Grade 1 races as the United Nations Stakes (two-time winner, established course records on both occasions), the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational Stakes (two-time winner), the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes, and the Breeders’ Cup Turf (established a course record). English Channel received 15 triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures from his 22 starts in North America. His career-best number was the 111 earned in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

At stud, English Channel has also sired Star Channel, a stakes winner on turf. Blueskiesnrainbows, another son of English Channel, finished third in last week’s Santa Anita Derby.

Optimizer’s female family boasts some strong dirt runners. His dam, Indy Pick, won twice on dirt and was able to stretch her ability to nine furlongs. Indy Pick is by A.P. Indy, the winner of the Belmont Stakes at 12 furlongs and the Breeders’ Cup Classic at 1 ¼ miles. She is also a half-sister to Finder’s Fee, the winner of the Grade 1 Matron Stakes and Grade 1 Acorn Stakes, both contested around a one-turn mile at Belmont; New Way, stakes-placed at five furlongs at Prairie Meadows; and Treasure Island, a multiple Grade 2-placed router on the NYRA circuit. Another of Indy Pick’s half-siblings, Tax Ruling, won three Grade 1 events going long over hurdles.

Optimizer’s second dam, Fantastic Find (by Mr. Prospector), won the Grade 1 Hempstead Handicap on dirt. The third dam, Blitey (by Riva Ridge), won the Grade 2 Maskette Stakes and Grade 2 Test Stakes. This is the female family of Grade 1 winners Dancing Spree (Breeders’ Cup Sprint) and Furlough (Ballerina Handicap).

Optimizer made his career debut in a maiden special weight on turf at Saratoga on Aug. 6, 2011. Dismissed at 27-1 in the field of 10, Optimizer raced greenly. He was far back while in the two path on the backstretch and was blindswitched entering the final turn. He advanced five wide late on that bend and spun widest in upper stretch. Ridden that afternoon by Robby Albarado, Optimizer rallied down the center of the course to win by a neck. Sabercat, the eighth-place finisher, would eventually win the Delta Jackpot.

Since that debut, Optimizer has yet to win. He made his first start against winners in the Grade 2 With Anticipation Stakes at the Spa, but couldn’t overcome the slow pace set by gate-to-wire winner State of Play. Optimizer gave a bold challenge in upper stretch only to fall a half-length short. As in his debut, Optimizer was a bit late to make his final lead change, but he still finished ahead of Dullahan, the next-out winner of the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland.

Optimizer also started in the Breeders’ Futurity, his first start on the main track. He was outsprinted in the early going, made a three-wide bid entering the far turn and was in contention as the field turned for home. Optimizer was in behind horses in midstretch and was forced to angle to the far outside, but he didn’t make his final lead change until past the sixteenth pole. He rallied over the Keeneland polytrack to finish third, 2 ¼ lengths ahead of Take Charge Indy, the recent winner of the Grade 1 Florida Derby.

Optimizer made his first start on dirt in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5, but never got involved, finishing eighth after an awkward beginning. He did finish ahead of three next-out winners, however, in Alpha (recently second in the Wood Memorial), Daddy Long Legs (winner of the UAE Derby), and Prospective (recent winner of the Tampa Bay Derby).

Optimizer kicked off his 3-year-old campaign with off-the-board finishes in both the $100,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park and the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds.

Undaunted by the disappointing efforts, Lukas soldiered on and was rewarded with a runner-up performance in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn on March 17. In the Rebel, Optimizer saved ground in midpack for the first five furlongs before angling out on the final turn. He was widest turning for home and rallied well for second behind favored Secret Circle despite failing to switch leads in the stretch.

Optimizer doesn’t have the swiftest break from the starting gate and he is often at the mercy of race and pace luck. If he does start in the Kentucky Derby, he would likely have to weave his way around the majority of the field. His lead changes aren’t smooth and that’s something he must work on if he is to beat top-class competition at classic distances.

Still, Optimizer received a career-best 91 Beyer Speed Figure in the Rebel and looks to be rounding into his best form. Lukas has always maintained that Optimizer will improve as the distances increase and the Arkansas Derby will be his first start at nine furlongs. We all know that Lukas wants nothing more than to get back to the Derby. If Optimizer has enough graded earnings, he’s going, perhaps even as an “Under the Radar” contender.

jeff More than 1 year ago
The Azeri was won a full second faster two races before the Rebel. I'm a huge Lukas fan, loved two of his derby winners, and lost on a bunch. I stick with the guy...sat right next to him in Jinks Fires box last year. However, I don't think this Optimizer is gonna threaten to win the A Derby, They are racing for second...Bodemeister is going to crush those guys.
Kermit Pleasant More than 1 year ago
Woody Stevens,Allen Jerkins,Jack Van Berg& other "old school" trainers won at Lucas age but they had good assistants &owner who believe in them dont see that today. As far as Optomiser good horse for turf if he learn to run!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"he should know better." My apologies for the typo.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When I saw Optimizer finish 2nd in the Rebel, I immediately downgraded the runners in the race. Has anyone else paid attention to Lukas' stats in graded races lately? You can do your own digging in Formulator. How many young horses has he ruined by throwing them to the wolves too soon trying to reach his former Derby glory? With all his former accomplishments, he should no better. Yeah, I know, 'you can't win it if you're not in it', but give me a break. Obviously, he trains for a lot of people with more money than common sense.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
racing_dudes More than 1 year ago
Actually considering his earnigns he needs to be no worse than 3rd to get in...but your point is valid. He must run well to get into the Kentucky Derby.
TriniLoo More than 1 year ago
Optimizer has to be no worse than 2nd in the Ark Derby in order to make it to May 5th. If he gets in, the race will setup well for closers, as Hansen is going to try and sprint 10 furlongs, with Take Charge pressing him along the way. If it goes how I think it will go, I like a horse like Optimizer to get the roses.
R. Carlos Nanez More than 1 year ago
Lukas..... had his good time with all those million dollars, well breed horse in his hands, but I think is all different now.