03/03/2005 12:00AM

Lukas once more coming up roses

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ARCADIA, Calif. - It has been a whirlwind week for trainer D. Wayne Lukas. He flew to Florida on Sunday, worked the 2-year-old sale at Calder on Monday and Tuesday, flew home Tuesday night, got to his home near Santa Anita around 2 a.m. that night, and less than two hours later was at his barn. Still, he was as upbeat and perky - and, yes, we are talking about the same D. Wayne Lukas - as he has been the past few months. What's gotten into him?

"People say I get that deer-in-the-headlights look this time of year, where I'm thinking but I'm not listening," Lukas said at his Santa Anita barn. "I'm very focused. I always put great emphasis on the Triple Crown and the marquee events like the Breeders' Cup, and if I've got something to work with it sends my adrenaline base a lot higher."

It has been off the charts lately. Lukas is pumped up. Two of his 3-year-old colts - Consolidator and Going Wild - are members of Daily Racing Form's Derby Watch top 25. Going Wild runs in Saturday's Santa Catalina at Santa Anita. Lukas has high hopes for two other colts, Big Top Cat and Silent Bid. It has put a bounce in Lukas's step, a permanent smile on his face, and a playfulness in his demeanor, which can be absent if things are not going so well.

"I've got good vibes with my 3-year-olds," Lukas said. "I'm bouncing out of bed. I got here at 10 minutes before 4. But I am on my third cup of coffee. I didn't want to be away from my 3-year-olds for one day. It was tough for me to be away for a few days. This time of year, I'm energized."

The Kentucky Derby is something Lukas, 69, has chased passionately since he first moved to Thoroughbreds from Quarter Horses more than 25 years ago. He has run a record 41 horses in the Derby, and has won the race four times, which ties him for second on the all-time list with "Derby Dick" Thompson (24 starts). Ben Jones won the Derby six times with just 11 starters. Lukas's Derby winners are Charismatic, 1999; Grindstone, 1996; Thunder Gulch, 1995; and Winning Colors, 1988.

In recent years, though, Lukas's 3-year-old prospect pool has been shallow. After starting a horse in the Derby 20 consecutive years - though sometimes tossing in clearly overmatched runners, like Deeds Not Words in 1997 - Lukas did not have any starters two of the last four years, in 2001 and 2004. He did, however, finish second in 2002 with Proud Citizen.

Consolidator is the most-accomplished of Lukas's current crop, having won last fall's Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland. But Going Wild has made the most progress of late. Going Wild has won three races already this winter at Santa Anita, including last month's Sham Stakes, and on Saturday he takes on 2-year-old champion Declan's Moon in the Grade 2, $200,000 Santa Catalina.

"This is where we wanted him to develop. This is where we asked him to play," Lukas said.

Going Wild, a son of Golden Missile, was bought for $600,000 at last year's Calder 2-year-old in training sale by Bob and Beverly Lewis. "They crank them up for those 2-year-old sales," Lukas said. "He's a big, strong colt. I wanted to back off him a little. I wanted to get him mentally where I wanted, so I told Bob and Beverly we'd bring him along in the fall."

Going Wild did not make his debut until September at Belmont Park. He finished third and then second against maidens there, then was second in a Hollywood Park maiden race. Since moving over to Santa Anita, though, he is unbeaten.

"He's a tank," Lukas said while standing outside Going Wild's stall. "He could drop another 30 pounds and still look good."

Consolidator raced seven times last year. After his victory in the Breeders' Futurity, he was fourth - behind Wilko, Afleet Alex, and Sun King - in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. In his first start this year, however, Consolidator finished last of four in last month's San Vicente Stakes. Lukas has blamed himself for the loss.

"He was too fresh," Lukas said. "He played around all the way to the gate. He wasn't focused. I'm a better horse trainer than that. Fortunately, it's correctable."

Consolidator is scheduled to make his next start in the Grade 2, $250,000 San Felipe Stakes on March 19, which is the scheduled 2005 debut of Wilko.

In the meantime, Lukas can admire Consolidator and show him off to visitors. A Storm Cat colt, he was a $1.25 million yearling purchase for the Lewises.

"This one would win the beauty contest," Lukas said while standing outside Consolidator's stall. "I don't want to say his coat is slick, but a fly sat on him the other day, slipped and broke his leg."