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Preakness' training titans Bob Baffert and Wayne Lukas might have made a super team

It's always fun to speculate about what would have happened if, almost a half-century ago when Bob Baffert called Wayne Lukas for a job, Lukas would have said yes.

Instead, he said no.

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"I asked him for a job one time out of high school, and he turned me down," Baffert said. "I tell him, 'I'm sure glad you turned me down because you'd be taking all the credit for this.' But he probably would have fired me after two weeks because he works way too hard.

"This," as Baffert puts it, is having the Kentucky Derby winner who just may be good enough to win the Triple Crown. Justify takes his second step toward that goal Saturday in the 143rd running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course.

There are a lot of similarities between the two trainers.

Baffert has won the Preakness six times. So has Lukas. Both were successful in quarter-horse racing. Lukas, as a thoroughbred trainer, has 14 Triple Crown wins; Baffert has 13. Baffert has one Triple Crown. Lukas has none.

Both are in the Hall of Fame — Lukas gave Baffert's induction speech.

"He told me everybody was laughing and kidding [when they heard I was inducting him]," Lukas said. "They were saying he's not going to have Wayne do it because they thought we were rivals. Yet he came to me, and I said, 'Bob, I'll be honored to present you.' And I did."

No doubt, the story was that they weren't buddies, and there was plenty of evidence of friction between the two.

"The media portrayed us as rivals and everything, so we would go along with you guys and then we'd go to dinner later," said Lukas, standing near the Pimlico stakes barn on a gloomy Wednesday morning.

"We've been friends for a long time. I have great respect for his ability. He's got an excellent eye for a horse. He's one of the few guys in the sale that when I pick one out that I like, I know sure as hell he'll be bidding too."

Baffert, 65, and Lukas, 82, first crossed paths, without meeting, when Baffert was a teenager in Arizona.

"I was 15, 16 years old and he came in to run some quarter horses in Sonoita, Arizona," Baffert said. "That's a little bush track there by Nogales where I learned about racing. I'll never forget when he came with his fancy trailer, and I'm thinking, man, there's Wayne Lukas."

Baffert eventually followed Lukas into quarter-horse racing, finding almost equal success. When Lukas switched to thoroughbreds, Baffert stayed in quarter horses but eventually got talked into trying the more prestigious form of racing.

"We had a long talk one day," said Lukas, seemingly not wanting to take too much credit. "[In my upcoming book] Bob talks about sitting down and me influencing him to quit the quarter horses completely and come over."

Baffert is not shy about who should take ownership of the move.

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"He opened up the doors for us quarter-horse guys to try thoroughbred racing," Baffert said. "He changed quarter-horse racing. He changed thoroughbred racing. Everywhere he goes, he changes it."

Lukas has started 41 horses in the Preakness, a number that will grow by two when Bravazo and Sporting Chance go to the gate Saturday.

Trainers Bob Baffert, left, and Wayne Lukas, shown in 2010, have won the Preakness Stakes six times each.
Trainers Bob Baffert, left, and Wayne Lukas, shown in 2010, have won the Preakness Stakes six times each. (Ed Reinke / Associated Press)

Justify will be Baffert's 19th starter. And Baffert has won the Preakness all four times when he brought the Kentucky Derby winner to Pimlico.

A win by either trainer will tie them with Robert Wyndham Walden for most Preakness wins. Walden won his last one in 1888.

Despite mutual admiration, Lukas is not beyond poking fun at Baffert.

"Here's where our similarities stop," Lukas said. "Bob is a little more laid back. He's going to get in and read the morning paper, have a cup of coffee, where I'm going to hit the floor running."

Baffert doesn't dispute Lukas' get-going ability.

"His work ethic is just second to none," Baffert said. "At his age, he's positive, he leads one up there and thinks he's going to win everything. I wish I had that kind of energy.

"He is still above me. I never felt in the quarter horses I could get to his level. I feel the same in thoroughbreds. He'll always be an icon, and he's the man."

No doubt Lukas is still big, but he understands the changing of the guard.

"He's awful kind to say those things," Lukas said. "I don't know if we're still the standard. I think he's getting to be the standard. We've reversed those roles pretty quickly."

And of the time when Lukas turned Baffert down for a job?

"He tells the story quite vividly," Lukas said. "I remember him calling me. … But I didn't turn him down; I just didn't have a position at that point where I could use him. And of course, he took off. He didn't need me.

"I don't know how it would have worked. Maybe I'd have gotten him up and going."

Imagine if these horse racing superpowers had ever been a team.

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