Wayne Lukas already has won more stakes races and more purse money in 1985 than any trainer has ever won in a single year. On Saturday he not only will likely add to his amazing figures, but he could establish a record in the Breeders' Cup that trainers will be trying to beat for years to come.
Lukas could very well win three or four of the seven Breeders' Cup events. He has a virtual lock on the 2-year-old filly race, in which he will saddle a powerful three-horse entry, and the race for older fillies and mares, in which Lady's Secret will be an odds-on favorite. In addition, Lukas has the probable favorite in the Breeders' Cup Sprint and a well-regarded contender in the Juvenile.
But his anticipated strong performance means more to Lukas than mere statistics. It should lay to rest the last lingering criticisms of his ability and his methods, and solidly establish the Californian as one of the giants of his profession.
No successful horseman in America has so many detractors. Perhaps he looks too much like a Hollywood glamor boy and too little like a craggy-faced Kentucky hardboot, but his critics have long maintained that Lukas has more style than substance as a trainer.
Even as he has compiled his brilliant record, these critics say that Lukas runners are here today, gone tomorrow. Indeed, many of his top horses -- Althea, Tank's Prospect, Codex, Marfa -- have been virtually finished by the middle of their 3-year-old campaigns.
Lukas bristles at this assessment. "I think one of the marks of a good trainer is to keep horses in top form over a period of time. If you'd asked my colleagues in quarter-horse racing about me a few years ago, they said, 'The S.O.B. keeps 'em running long and hard.' "
Now Lukas' thoroughbred counterparts may be forced to acknowledge the same thing. His forces are coming into the Breeders' Cup with long strings of solid performances, and they are still going strong.
Probably no horse in America has sustained his or her form longer than Lady's Secret. The 3-year-old daughter of Secretariat looked this spring as if she would be a fairly good sprinter, but not even her trainer could have imagined that she would win eight straight stakes races at distances up to 1 1/4 miles.
"I think she's the best racehorse of either sex in training," Lukas declared. "If the horse-of-the-year title is based on consistency and talent and performance over a period of time, I think she deserves it."
Lukas did a similarly skillful job preparing his ace sprinter, Mt. Livermore, for the Breeders' Cup. The colt was a terror in New York early in the season: he ran seven furlongs in a dazzling 1:20 4/5 over the Aqueduct track. "Those races were hard on him," Lukas said, "and he lightened up in mid-summer. So we didn't stress him, and we spaced his races."
Mt. Livermore gave a succession of poor performances during the summer, but he returned to form in the fall and beat the East's best sprinters in the Fall Highweight Handicap last month. "Right now," Lukas said, "he looks as good as he's ever been."
As formidable as Lady's Secret and Mt. Livermore are, Lukas may hold his strongest hand in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. His three-horse entry includes Family Style, who has won three Grade I stakes, but the most talented of his fillies may be Twilight Ridge.
"Twilight Ridge looked real impressive in the spring," Lukas said, "but she developed a little tenderness in one shin. Normally we would have cooled her out and gone on with her, but because of the Breeders' Cup we gave her a rest." Twilight Ridge finished a good second in a prep race last week, and she seems set to deliver an explosive performance on Saturday.
"Just about everything we've done this year," Lukas said, "has been pretty much with the Breeders' Cup in mind." Rival trainers may find this statement a bit frightening, in view of the fact that Lukas has won 61 stakes and $8 million while he has been getting ready for Saturday.