Bobby Zen

In terms of positive momentum, the best result in the aftermath of every year’s GI Preakness S. is for the GI Kentucky Derby winner to triumph again in Baltimore, setting up a potential Triple Crown bid that infuses the sport with a three-week burst of buoyancy leading up to the GI Belmont S.

In the majority of years that doesn’t happen, which is why the elusive Triple Crown is so special. So the next-best result is an exciting race with a compelling storyline.

Saturday’s 149th Preakness didn’t quite deliver on the “exciting race” wish, either. Tactically, the middle jewel of the Triple Crown unfolded like a lot of eight-horse routes conducted over muddy conditions at any level of the game over any track in America: A 9-1 speed horse who relished the “off” going went straight to the front, contenders who were expected to press him either weren’t up to the task or couldn’t get good footing, and the hard-trying favorite, despite enjoying a no-excuse stalking trip, simply had too much work to do at the top of the stretch to reel in the mudlark.

But the “compelling storyline” angle? The Preakness slammed this one out of the park.

It’s difficult not to crack a smile at the witticisms of 88-year-old Hall-of-Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas while feeling an appreciative glow for how, in the autumn years of a storied career, he’s honed the overachieving Seize the Grey (Arrogate) into a Classics winner, mentored and motivated 25-year-old rookie rider Jaime Torres, and taken 2,570 MyRacehorse micro-share owners for the ride of a lifetime by orchestrating an upset for his seventh lifetime Preakness win, second-most by a trainer behind only Bob Baffert’s eight.

“The last one is always the sweetest,” is how Lukas led off his post-victory media conference. “The last girl you dance with is the one you take home.”

Derby Bypass Pays Off…

Lukas, whose throwback style includes racing his stock more often than contemporary trainers, laid the foundation for Seize the Grey’s Preakness score by uncharacteristically passing on entering the Derby. Seize the Grey only had 27 qualifying points, and he would have been parked down on the also-eligible list as the likely third-preference to get into the race.

“We’d have been running in the Derby if we’d have had the points,” Lukas explained. “It would give that many [micro-share owners] a chance to have a Derby entry. But if we’d have entered, we can’t double-enter in Kentucky. So if we’d have entered the Derby and ended up [on the also-eligible list], which we would have, we wouldn’t have been able to run in the [GII] Pat Day Mile [S.].”

“So [MyRacehorse founder] Mike [Behrens] and I had to make a decision to skip the Derby, go to the Pat Day Mile, or we wouldn’t have run anywhere. We’d have had to sit the whole Saturday out. I firmly believe that the Pat Day Mile put us in position to win the Preakness,” Lukas said.

In that May 4 stakes on the Derby undercard, Seize the Grey stalked in a tight pack behind quick fractions under Torres, came with a four-wide bid, survived some bumping and split foes to win the Pat Day Mile at 9-1 odds.

But was that win an outlier? In the lead-up to the Triple Crown series, Seize the Grey was a no-impact seventh in the GI Blue Grass S. at Keeneland and had run third with a wide bid over Tapeta in the GIII Jeff Ruby Steaks S. at Turfway.

With Preakness mounts at a premium, Lukas was inundated with offers from more seasoned riders shortly after he declared Seize the Grey would be Baltimore-bound.

“I had phone calls from about six agents that after he won the Pat Day Mile,” Lukas said. “It’s a tough business, because they said, ‘Well, you know, you’re going to change riders for the big one, aren’t you?’”

But Lukas remained loyal to Torres, believing that the jockey, who had only been riding since August of 2022, deserved a shot at a Triple Crown race based on his raw talent and willingness to learn.

“I said, ‘Not a chance, he’s staying right there,” Lukas recollected.

Seize the Grey and Jaime Torres win the GII Pat Day Mile on Derby Day | Coady Media

Coaching, Not Over-Coaching…

Back on July 29, 2023, Torres, who had graduated from a jockey school in his native Puerto Rico before breaking in at Gulfstream, had been trying to make his mark as an apprentice at the ultra-competitive Saratoga meet. He was mired in a 1-for-22 slump when “The Coach” first named him to ride. The mount was a second-time starter shipping in from Ellis Park who looked overmatched on paper at 16-1 odds.

That maiden colt was Seize the Grey, who wired a 6 1/2-furlong sprint in the slop. The win kick-started an upward arc for Torres, who ended 2023 as the leading apprentice rider on the New York circuit before giving Churchill Downs and Fair Grounds a go over the winter.

Seize the Grey wintered at Oaklawn with Lukas, who had moved on to a different jockey. But when the Derby meet opened at Churchill, Lukas shipped there and began riding Torres again. The results weren’t spectacular, but Lukas believed Torres had what it takes to compete at that demanding level.

“He rode a few horses for me at Churchill and rode a few just general horses, nothing real special,” Lukas said. “I thought he had a lot of talent and I loved working with him, but I really feel good about taking him to this level.

“A couple of weeks ago he rode one not so pretty, and I followed him all the way through the tunnel, all the way up the steps to the jocks’ room, and I chewed him out,” Lukas said.

“I said, ‘You’ll be back in Puerto Rico picking oranges if you’re going to ride like that,” Lukas recalled, adding that he believes Torres remembered those words when he rode Seize the Grey with purpose in the Preakness.

“I know that when he turned for home, that was echoing in his ears, that he’d better get down and scrubbing because I think it really hit home,” Lukas said.

Lukas, over the years, has proven to be an effective coach primarily because he does not over-coach.

“I don’t get into the mechanics of riding so much, but I get into I want them to dedicate themselves beyond [their expectations],” Lukas said. “I want him to be better than he thinks he can be. I always push that to him: ‘I’m going to push you. I want you to do more than you actually think you can do and I want you to be better than you think you can be. I want you to really, really dedicate yourself.’”

“If you don’t do that, get a job bagging groceries at the grocery store, because this is a tough, tough business and very competitive,” Lukas said. “I have to represent a number of owners, so when I put him on, I’m making a commitment that he’s okay.”

Late-Career Resurgence…

The last time Lukas won the Preakness was in 2013 with the 15-1 Oxbow. One of the horses he beat that day was Goldencents, the sire of the 2024 beaten Preakness favorite, Mystik Dan.

In the 11-year interim, it looked for a time like Lukas was fading off the Thoroughbred grid. In 2019, his stable managed only 15 wins. In the pandemic-altered 2020, Lukas barely earned $1 million in purses.

Both figures paled in comparison to his gravy years of the 1980’s and early 90s, when 200-300 trips to the winner’s circle were common, and Lukas’s annual purse earnings in the $10-to-17-million range routinely topped the sport. “D. Wayne off the plane!” was the catchphrase turf writers relied on to describe Lukas’s mastery for shipping in to win major stakes races in bunches.

“Now, what happened to me in that 11-year span?” Lukas asked rhetorically on Saturday. “I lost [owner] Bill Young of Overbrook. I lost Gene Klein of the San Diego Chargers. I lost Bob Lewis, and you can’t replace those kind of people…”

“You’re only as good as your clientele,” Lukas continued. “If the clientele will back you, give you a chance to get in that yearling market. That’s where we’ve always built our stable, in the yearling market…”

“The thing about it is every time we’ve been lucky to win [the Preakness], it’s been with a different client, and so that is what makes it special,” Lukas said. “That’s what makes this one special, 2,000-plus [micro-share owners].”

“That’s what I get paid for, to let them live the dream,” Lukas said.

Not only did the large MyRacehorse ownership group comprise a crowded winner’s circle, but the phalanx of well-wishers wanting to make contact with Lukas made it difficult for him to reach the Preakness podium.

“Boy, I’ll tell you what. I didn’t think we’d get up there,” Lukas said. “They really turned them loose. I’ve been in some cattle drives that were more organized than that. It was really chaotic…”

“One of the things that was very significant to me today–and maybe it’s because I’m getting a little bit older–but as I came out of the grandstand and out across the racetrack, every one of the guys that were in that race stopped and hugged me and give me a handshake,” Lukas said.

“That meant more to me than any single thing. Baffert, Kenny McPeek, right down the line.”

On Sunday morning, Lukas confirmed that Seize the Grey (100 Beyer Speed Figure) exited the Preakness in decent shape and would be pointed for the June 8 Belmont S., which because of a two-year reconstruction project at Belmont Park, will be conducted in 2024 and 2025 at Saratoga at the abbreviated distance of 10 furlongs instead of 12.

There shouldn’t have been much doubt about whether Lukas would be aiming for the third leg of the Triple Crown. All six of his previous Preakness winners entered the Belmont S., although Timber Country, who scratched the day before the 1995 edition with a fever, was the only one who didn’t start.

Tabasco Cat in 1994 was Lukas’s only Preakness/Belmont doubler. Oxbow in 2013 ran second; Charismatic in 1999 was third; Winning Colors in 1988 finished sixth; Codex in 1980 was seventh.

“It’s a whole different deal,” Lukas said Sunday, speaking about the venue and distance change for the Belmont S. “I want to get a hold of the [New York Racing Association] race secretary and see how this thing will shake out and what the deal is. We’ll get new faces. There are some guys sitting in the wings. I’m sure that Todd [Pletcher] and Chad [Brown], with the depth they’ve got in their stables, will be involved. The fact that it’s a mile and a quarter, I think it makes it more enticing.”

The post The Week In Review: Seize The Grey Won The Preakness; His Trainer’s Glow Illuminates The Sport appeared first on TDN | Thoroughbred Daily News | Horse Racing News, Results and Video | Thoroughbred Breeding and Auctions.

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