Updated on 09/15/2011 12:54PM

Lukas: Not out and he's not even down

Email

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Often overshadowed, sometimes underestimated, but rarely outdone, trainer D. Wayne Lukas has managed to turn 2001 from moribund to magical.

In a year in which he broke his 20-year Kentucky Derby appearance streak and lost one of his biggest clients, Padua Stable, Lukas has found a way not only to endure, but to excel.

Earlier this year, Lukas became just the fourth Thoroughbred trainer to surpass the 4,000 mark in career wins. After a nondescript spring, he has caught fire at Saratoga, winning his first Grade 1 of the year when Scorpion upset the Jim Dandy.

Saturday, Lukas sends out Scorpion in the $1 million Travers; a trainer lying in the weeds waiting to pounce on Preakness and Belmont winner Point Given. The last Preakness-Belmont winner to run in the Travers, Hansel in 1991, was defeated by the Lukas-trained Corporate Report, the first of two Travers winners for Lukas.

If Bobby Frankel is the hottest trainer in the country, Lukas is running a strong second. At Saratoga, Lukas has won with 14 of 38 starters (37 percent) and is atop the trainer standings, one in front of Bill Mott (13 for 60).

This is quite a turnaround from last summer when Lukas was 3 for 48 at Saratoga including an 0-for-34 stretch.

"It is very gratifying to have this kind of meet," said Lukas, who turns 66 on Sept. 2. "We came here with 30 horses like everybody else, and we have not beefed up the division in any way."

In fact, Lukas has lost horses. Earlier this month, Satish Sanan's Padua Stable pulled the majority of the horses he had in Lukas's care and dispersed them to other trainers, including Lukas's nemesis, Bob Baffert, and a former Lukas assistant, Todd Pletcher. Although they did campaign a Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner, Cash Run, the Sanans were mostly disappointed in their success rate with Lukas.

So was Lukas.

"If you have a lot of pride and you're proud of your accomplishments, it is just as frustrating for you as a trainer to not win with horses that you would like to win with as it is for the owners," Lukas said. "And we talked openly about that at length. I really like Satish Sanan. I consider him a dear friend. I think he's one hell of a guy, and I think he's good for the game."

Two days after Sanan pulled his horses, Lukas won the Jim Dandy with Scorpion, his first Grade 1 win since Spain took the La Brea last Dec. 30. Lukas said he did not take any extra gratification in the victory.

"I'm not made that way," Lukas said. "We were going to win the Jim Dandy whether Satish Sanan was there holding my hand or he was throwing darts at me."

Lukas has an uncanny sense of timing. Another example occurred two days after this year's Kentucky Derby, which for the first time in 21 years did not include a Lukas-trained horse.

On May 7, when Added Spice won the ninth race at Delaware Park, it was the 4,000th career victory for Lukas. The achievement - surpassed only by Dale Baird, Jack Van Berg, and King Leatherbury - got barely a mention.

"The 4,000 wins is not significant," Lukas said. "It's the fact they are almost all allowance or stakes. When you're running claiming horses, you can control your destiny a little bit. When you give $500,000 for a filly" that can only win her maiden, Lukas added, "she stays an 'other-than' forever."

Lukas had 4,044 wins through Thursday, according to records kept by Daily Racing Form. Of those, 993 came in stakes and 1,390 in allowance or handicap races, according to information from the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.

While he is the fourth all-time leading trainer in wins, Lukas is by far the top trainer in money won. His $222,391,356 is double that of Bill Mott, who recently moved past Charlie Whittingham into second with $111,110,112.

Lukas has led the nation in annual earnings 15 times. And while he doesn't figure to catch Baffert or Frankel for the top spot this year, he believes he could land in the top 4 before the year is over. Currently, he is seventh in earnings with just over $4 million.

"I feel like we're having a real good year considering where we started out," Lukas said. "We didn't have a major handicap horse, which a person needs to get on top of the standings. But we're coming along nicely for the fall, and I think we'll make a little run."

With 16 wins, Lukas is by far the top trainer in Breeders' Cup history.

This week, Lukas was already plotting his Breeders' Cup strategy. Spain, who upset last year's Breeders' Cup Distaff at 50-1, has not been out since April, but will begin preparing for the Breeders' Cup in Sunday's Grade 1 Ballerina.

Yonaguska, last year's dead-heat Hopeful winner who also has not raced since April, is also on the comeback trail and will be pointed to the Breeders' Cup Sprint. Orientate, an exciting 3-year-old prospect, will try stakes company for the first time in Saturday's Grade 1 King's Bishop and may be a Sprint candidate, too.

Lukas has already sent out nearly a dozen juvenile winners, including Jump Start, the Saratoga Special winner who is being pointed to the Grade 1 Hopeful on Sept. 1.

"Right now, if you took Breeders' Cup entries, nobody would factor us in," Lukas said. "But I'll bet you we're a force in it."

Only the stubborn would take that wager.

Go to Saratoga coverage.