The Sport Can Learn From This Preakness, But Will Anyone Pay Attention

D. Wayne Lukas | Sarah Andrew

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There's not a trainer in the country who would have won the GI Preakness S. with Seize the Grey (Arrogate) other than Wayne Lukas because no one would have run him in this race except for Wayne Lukas.

Horses need six, seven weeks between races. Good horses can't run more than four or five times a year, no one should ever mess with their winning percentage and run a 25-1 shot and don't dare use a jockey with no prior experience in the Triple Crown. Apparently, Lukas never got that memo. Or maybe he did and threw it in the trash where it belonged.

With both Seize the Grey and stablemate Just Steel (Justify) Lukas did everything wrong, at least when it comes to going by what has become the book in 2024.The Preakness was Seize the Grey's 10th lifetime start and his fifth in 56 days. Even after he finished seventh in the GI Toyota Blue Grass S., Lukas wanted to run him in the GI Kentucky Derby but the horse didn't have the points. That's why he decided to start him instead in the GII Pat Day Mile S.

The Pat Day Mile is where he turned his career around. Reunited with jockey Jaime Torres, who has only been riding since 2022, a different horse showed up that day. Sent off at 9-1, he was closer to the pace than he had been and then he drew off to win by 1 1/4 lengths.

“When he ran in the Pat Day Mile, I thought it set him up absolutely perfect [for the Preakness],” Lukas said.

Put him in virtually any other barn and the Preakness never would have been a consideration. Running there meant coming back in two weeks, switching to two turns and running at a distance that looked beyond his reach. Conventional wisdom called for a start in the GI Woody Stephens on June 8, a seven-furlong race restricted to 3-year-olds at Saratoga. That would have given him a break of five weeks and allow him to run at a distance that would have fit him like a glove.

But Lukas drinks a different flavor of Kool-Aid. In an era where too many trainers are treating the Preakness like it's the South Dakota Derby, Lukas, the old school trainer that he is, obviously doesn't see it that way. He understands what a prestigious race it still is, its place in racing history and that it has a $2-million purse surely doesn't hurt.

The horse was obviously doing well going into the race. When other trainers were asking themselves why run in the Preakness, Lukas was saying why not run in the Preakness?

Not only did Seize the Gray not regress after the Pat Day Mile, in which he got a career best 88 Beyer figure, he flourished. He glided effortlessly over the muddy and sealed track at Pimlico, led every step of the way and won by a comfortable 2 1/4 lengths over Derby winner Mystik Dan (Goldencents). His Beyer was a 100, 12 points better than his previous top.

So instead of sitting in the barn all day, he won a Triple Crown race, earned $1.2 million, increased his potential value a sire and brought a smile to the faces to the 2,570 owners who invested in him through MyRacehorse.com. And it all happened because Wayne Lukas is old school and is not afraid to run his horses on short rest and in spots where they might be double-digit longshots.

And that's only part of the story. There were four horses in the race who were coming back on two weeks' rest. Led by Seize the Grey, they ran one-two-three, with Mystic Dan finishing second and Catching Freedom (Constitution) ending up third. As for the so-called “fresh” horses: Tuscan Gold (Medaglia d'Oro) was fourth; Uncle Heavy (Social Inclusion) was sixth; Imagination (Into Mischief) was seventh; Mugatu (Blofeld) was eighth. Had you boxed the four horses coming back on short rest in the trifecta, you would have collected $367.40 for a $2 bet.

His penchant for not missing any dances has, in some respects, cost Lukas. He hasn't had a winning percentage of over 17% since 2002 and from 2017 through 2023 his annual winning percentage never topped 10%. Chad Brown's career winning percentage is 25%. For Brad Cox, the number is 26%. Bob Baffert's career winning percentage is 23%. It's easy to see why they get more horses to train than Lukas and more good horses. But if there are two horses of equal ability, one trained by Lukas and one trainer by Chad Brown, doesn't the owner have a better chance of making money with the Lukas horse that starts 12 times a year than the Brown horse that makes four starts?

The only top trainer who you can compare Lukas to is Kenny McPeek. He threw out the play book a long time ago. He ran Mystik Dan back in two weeks in the Derby and it looks like he will be coming back for the GI Belmont S. He might even run the filly (Thorpedo Anna) in the Belmont. And why not? He's already won the Preakness with a filly, Swiss Skydiver (Daredevil). He won the 2002 Belmont with a 70-1 shot, Sarava (Wild Again) when everybody told him the horse had no business running in that race.

In an era where its no longer a cinch that the Derby winner runs back in the Preakness, McPeek brought his Derby winner to Pimlico and it looks like he will start in the Belmont. Running in all three Triple Crown races is like a complete game in baseball, it never happens anymore.

McPeek is another one who doesn't seem to care about his winning percentage, which is 15% for his career. He could easily be a 25% trainer, if only he would be extra, extra careful about where he ran his horses and never took a chance or entered a longshot. It's no coincidence that these two teamed up to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown. Yes, they take chances but when those chances pay off the rewards are immeasurable. They both understand what seems obvious but isn't always perceived that way around the racetrack–an owner can't make any money if their horses are kept in bubble wrap.

Facing off against the likes of Sierra Leone (Gun Runner), Fierceness (City of Light) and others, Mystik Dan and Seize the Grey will be facing a stiff challenge in the Belmont. But it looks like they're both going to go, which, for them, will mean three races in five weeks. That may be hard, but it's doable. At least there are two top trainers out there who understand just that. Two trainers who are not afraid to buck what, sadly and to the detriment of the sport, has become the system.

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