Horse trainers, like poker players, have to know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em. They must manage their horses cautiously at some moments of their careers and go aggressively for the big money at other times.
Nobody in the business has better instincts for making these judgments than Wayne Lukas. That's why the California-based trainer is breaking all the records for money and stakes won in a single season.
He can add to his already amazing figures when he saddles his filly Family Style for the world's richest 2-year-old race, the Hollywood Futurity, Sunday.
Some trainers would hesitate to run a filly against colts after she had gone through a tough campaign and raced in New York only two weeks ago. But Lukas knows that Family Style never will have a better chance for a big payday -- partly because the trainer of the best 2-year-old in the West picked a peculiar time to get conservative.
Tasso, the winner of the Breeders' Cup, figured to be an odds-on favorite when he came back home for the Futurity. But trainer Neil Drysdale decided to give the lightly raced colt a rest, instead, and pack him away until next season. Who needs the winner's share of a $1,172,000 purse, anyway?
Drysdale basically is a cautious trainer, and Will Farish -- who bought a half-interest in Tasso after the Breeders' Cup -- is a cautious owner. (As soon as he bought a piece of Spend a Buck, the Kentucky Derby winner was dodging his opposition at every opportunity). Maybe Drysdale and Farish don't want to risk a defeat that would hurt Tasso's chances for an Eclipse Award, but they are passing up the best money-making opportunity their colt ever will have.
The Lukas camp has no such qualms about entering big races. "The object of the game is to win money," said Jeff Lukas, Wayne's son and assistant. "How many opportunities like this does a horse get?"
Besides, he said, this is no long-shot venture. "Family Style's record is better than any of the colts in the field."
That's probably true. The filly finished second to her stablemate, Twilight Ridge, in the Breeders' Cup race for 2-year-old fillies, covering the mile in 1:36.
The one colt entered in the Futurity who seemed to have special talent was a Calumet Farm speedster with the ignoble name of Judge Smells.
He had won all three of his races, and was completing his preparation for the Futurity Friday morning when he fractured his left front leg. His career is over.
That's another good argument against being too conservative in the horse business. When a trainer such as Drysdale passes an immediate opportunity and looks ahead to the future, that future never may arrive.