SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y.
When Wayne Lukas started to emerge as one of the country's most successful horse trainers, the Eastern establishment was not impressed.
Detractors said his methods were geared to California's hard, speed-favoring tracks; that he depended on the state's liberal medication rules. And his personal style was too, too Californian.
But this summer, in his first full year of campaigning a division of his stable in New York, even Lukas' most vocal critics have fallen silent. He dominated the summer meeting at Belmont Park, winning with more than one-third of the horses he saddled. He won two stakes in the opening week at Saratoga, bringing his total of New York stakes winners to 14 for the year.
The combined record of his New York horses, his California horses and a third-string division in Nebraska is enabling Lukas to amass a record that has no precedent in the history of U.S. racing. In 1984, he broke a record when his horses earned $5.8 million in purses. So far in 1985, the figure already is $5.5 million. And this, he says, is only the beginning.
"I'd like to average $12 million and 80 stakes a year," he declared. Nobody who has witnessed his performance in New York this year would bet against his chances.
Lukas' initial success in the West encouraged his owners to invest more heavily in the sport and lured new owners with money to spend. Big, big money. At the premier yearling sales, Lukas commands more clout than any American; Britain's Robert Sangster had to spend a record $13.1 million to outbid him for a colt at the Keeneland sale last month.
Because he had a surfeit of good horses in California, Lukas sent nine of them to New York last summer with his son Jeff. They quickly found that dividing the stable was a profitable move, because they could put horses in spots where they were most effective.
"Medication is one factor," Lukas said. "If we suspect a horse is a bleeder, we're going to keep him in California, where he can use Lasix. Some horses may or may not like the harder tracks in California. Our filly Alabama Nana didn't care for the tracks in the West, so we sent her to Belmont and she won four in a row. There's a lot more emphasis on speed in California, too, so we'll send horses where their style is most effective."
By this summer, Jeff Lukas was training 40 horses here -- he had more of the stable's stars than his father did -- but the performance of the barn seemed unaffected by which Lukas was in charge. Jeff Lukas thinks like his father, even talks like him. "We have a tremendous relationship," he said. "We talk about every horse daily: when we're going to run him, what level and so on."
Wayne also consults daily with Barry Knight, who handles 40 horses for him at Ak-Sar-Ben in Omaha and is breaking all the training records there. And he is giving thought to creating a fourth division of his stable elsewhere in the Midwest.
There never has been an operation quite like it. Other trainers -- notably Jack Van Berg -- have run successful far-flung operations, and others have dominated the stakes races in their own region, but no one ever has had so many high-class horses in so many parts of the country as Lukas does now.
And his stable is steadily getting stronger. His 2-year-olds this year may be an extremely powerful group. Lukas has won two of the early-season New York juvenile stakes with a colt named Sovereign Don, but he said this 2-year-old "isn't even on our second string. He's the third string. He'll probably be in Omaha by the end of the year."
Lukas' 2-year-old Arewehavingfunyet won a big stake for fillies at Hollywood Park, but he says if he staged a training race for the 2-year-old fillies in his stable she wouldn't finish in the money.
Lukas hasn't turned loose many of these promising youngsters, except for one brilliant filly, Twilight Ridge, and when he does he may dominate racing in New York and California even more than he is now. The critics who used to grouse that he had more style than substance may have a new complaint: "Break up Wayne Lukas!"