He kept coming back, year after year, horse after horse, trying to get another victory in the Preakness Stakes before he was done. Going into the 138th running of the Triple Crown's middle leg, D. Wayne Lukas had tried eight times since Charismatic won at Pimlico Race Course in 1999 — with 12 different entries.
The best any of his horses could do was third place — twice — with Proud Citizen in 2002 and Scrimshaw in 2003.
But as the 77-year-old Hall of Fame trainer pointed out after 15-1 shot Oxbow took the lead nearly out of the gates and held off Itsmyluckyday by 1 ¾ lengths to give Lukas his sixth victory in the Preakness, even winning a record 14th Triple Crown race was not going to change his career plans.
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Pimlico, Baltimore, MD, USA
The former high school basketball coach from Wisconsin is nowhere near his own personal finish line.
Speaking to the media that had seemingly written him off in the 12 years since his last Triple Crown victory with Commendable at the 2000 Belmont Stakes, Lukas said, "The thing about it is that you get up every day and look for that one that maybe you can do something [with].
"But as long as we've got something to work with, we're going to be around. I think that we're not through by a long way here. I feel like we can get up and maybe get another one someplace down the line."
That could happen in three weeks at the Belmont Stakes. Though he said that he had yet to talk with Oxbow's owner, Brad Kelley, Lukas said neither he nor the horse's 50-year-old Hall of Fame jockey, Gary Stevens, thought Saturday's race had done much to tax the winner.
"Gary and I were talking and one of the things that really impressed us was he was not even blowing when he walked in the winner circle," Lukas said. "I don't know if you noticed that, but he didn't hardly turn a hair, and he showed no stress lines whatsoever, nothing."
And then there was Lukas' own competitiveness, which clearly hasn't been racheted down at all since he was winning Triple Crown races like some trainers win a Graded Stakes race.
"You know me, I like to rack them up in the big events," he said. "So I'll probably go" to the Belmont.
While a victory for Orb would have energized the entire sport as much as Oxbow's win fired up his trainer, Lukas' win was appreciated by the man who was denied his own chance at helping make history with what would have been a chance at the first Triple Crown in 35 years.
"One thing about him, when he wasn't doing as good, he was still the first guy on that pony at 5 o'clock in the morning going to the racetrack," Orb trainer Shug McGauhey said outside his horse's stall after the race. "He was always a very optimistic guy. He's been a credit to this game for a long time. Some of his things might have been questioned along the way, but my hat's off to him. It always has been."
Said Stevens, who won the first of his nine Triple Crown victories on the Lukas-trained filly Winning Colors in the 1988 Kentucky Derby, "All the stars were aligned. I couldn't be more pleased with winning this thing. It's even more special winning it for Wayne Lukas and his team."
Asked about breaking the previous record of 13 Triple Crown victories by legendary trainer "Sunny" Jim Fitzsimmons, Lukas said, "I well shared that record with a very special man in this industry. And if I never broke it, I was proud of that. I know he meant so much to the thoroughbred industry. I thought maybe we'd win another one, but to get it done, it's probably going to be on Trivial Pursuit in about five minutes, but that's about it."
His own personal game of not-so-trivial pursuit continues, as Lukas will head out in search of another Triple Crown victory.
"They're all special," he said.