04/09/2013 3:32PM

Oaklawn Park: Lukas barn loaded with talented 3-year-olds on Triple Crown trail

Alexander Barkoff/Hodges Photography
Oxbow, who won the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds in January, will be one of the favorites in Saturday's Grade 1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas is navigating this year’s Triple Crown trail with some of the more serious contenders he’s had in a number of years.

Oxbow is to start as one of the top choices Saturday in the Grade  1, $1  million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn. Channel Isle is hunting Kentucky Derby qualifying points the same afternoon in the Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass at Keeneland. Will Take Charge is scheduled to train up to the Kentucky Derby following his win in last month’s Grade 2, $600,000 Rebel at Oaklawn. And Titletown Five is a long-range prospect for the Preakness.

It’s a solid lineup for Lukas, who shares a record with “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons for the most wins by a trainer in Triple Crown races with 13. Four of those wins have come in the Kentucky Derby, with Lukas’s last score in the race coming in 1999 with Charismatic.

“I think we’ve gone to the top of the mountain, and we didn’t hit the bottom of the valley, but we slipped down the side of the hill a little bit, and now we’re getting our footing and climbing back,” said Lukas, 77. “When you lose the Overbrooks and the Bob Lewises, it takes a while to recover, and we are now recovering, and recovering very nicely, I might add. I’m getting horses that we have a chance to work with and do well with, and so we feel that not only will we be effective this year, I think we’re going to be effective next year.”

Oxbow is part of a projected field of 10 for the Arkansas Derby, a 1  1/8-mile race that closes out the meet at Oaklawn. He was second by a head in last month’s Rebel and back in January was an 11-length winner of the Grade 3, $200,000 Lecomte at Fair Grounds. Oxbow has 36 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby, ranking 13th among the potential starters for the May 4 race at Churchill Downs.

[ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays]

“He’s got an explosive kick, which will help you,” Lukas said of Oxbow. “In a 20-horse field, it’s always imperative that you have a horse that if the hole opens up and you have to make a move, you can get there. Sometimes the hole is moving faster than the horse. He’s got that ability to dictate where he wants to be in a race, and that’s important. And he’s got good cruising speed too.”

Oxbow is an athletic, compact colt who Lukas estimates stands 15.2 hands tall and weighs about 1,100 pounds. He’s also a bit of a chameleon, looking both bay and roan at the same time.

“Even The Jockey Club checked him twice,” Lukas said. “One of the paddock judges called him a roan, so a member of The Jockey Club came to Keeneland when he ran there, and they said, ‘No, he’s a bay.’ He’s listed as a bay. He’s got that undercoat of bay brown, but he’s got those gray hairs all through it, and he looks like a roan.”

Gary Stevens has the mount on Oxbow, who, like Channel Isle, races for Brad Kelley’s Calumet Farm. Joe Rocco Jr. will ride Channel Isle in the Blue Grass. The horse is coming off a seventh-place finish, beaten 4 1/2 lengths, in the Grade 3 Spiral at Turfway, an effort for which he earned a career-high Beyer Speed Figure of 82.

“He’s on a surface he loves Saturday, and he’ll definitely run a mile and an eighth,” Lukas said. “We’ll see how that shakes out.”

As for the Arkansas Derby, Oxbow’s potential rivals are Carve, Den’s Legacy, Falling Sky, Frac Daddy, Heaven’s Runway, Looking Cool, Overanalyze, Texas Bling and War Academy. Demonic will not start, trainer John Sadler said Tuesday.

Will Take Charge had been under consideration for the Blue Grass, but after debating the race, Lukas and owner Willis Horton have decided to just bring the horse up to the Kentucky Derby off works. He is tentatively scheduled to have three from here to the classic, with the first of them, possibly over a mile, penciled in for Friday at Oaklawn.

“If you take the purse structure out of it, we have nothing to gain running in the Blue Grass,” Lukas said. Lukas noted that Will Take Charge already has enough points to secure a spot in the Kentucky Derby if the race oversubscribes. The horse is sitting seventh on the points leaderboard with 60. Earlier this meet, Will Take Charge won the $150,000 Smarty Jones.

“We’re going to train up to the Derby,” Lukas said. “I just love the way he’s doing and the way he’s maturing. He’s really, really in the zone to me. I love what I see. He’s put on weight, and his energy level’s really increased, and I like that. I would just like to go in there fresh.”

Lukas said Will Take Charge, whose regular rider is Jon Court, is to ship to Churchill Downs on Sunday.

Titletown Five breezed a half-mile in 48.40 seconds Tuesday at Oaklawn under regular exercise rider Rudy Quevedo. Oaklawn head clocker Jim Hamilton had the horse galloping out five furlongs in 1:02.40.

Lukas said Titletown Five is to make his next start in the Grade 3, $175,000 Derby Trial at Churchill Downs on April 27 and is to be ridden by either Gary Stevens or Mike Smith. From there, the goal is the Preakness. Tour Guide also is headed for the Derby Trial, Lukas said.

Another 3-year-old stakes starter for Lukas will be Red Wings, who is to run in the $100,000 Northern Spur on the Arkansas Derby undercard. Lukas said Stevens has the mount and also will ride Laurie’s Rocket for the barn in the Grade 3, $250,000 Count Fleet Sprint here Saturday.