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Lukas Has It All--Except for Sleeping In

ASSOCIATED PRESS

He’s already got the jet, the Rolls, the Rolex and the Armani suits. More trophies, more titles and more money than the Trumps, even reunited. So how come D. Wayne Lukas still sleeps only five hours a night?

Critics, and there are still plenty, say he needs the rest of the time to keep the wheels of his juggernaut turning. Lukas says otherwise.

“Because I don’t wake up every morning, look around and say, ‘What’s left?’ Because other people have to find things to replenish themselves,” he said. “It happens to me every day.”

Waking and winning or waking and preparing to win; it seems sometimes that he would have a problem drawing the line between the points on the map or the days on a calender.

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This particular Thursday began with a 4 a.m. arrival at California’s Del Mar race track, where Lukas surveyed his well-manicured grounds and a better-manicured stable of horses. It will end sometime around 10:30 p.m. in Oklahoma, where he will look at a host of pricey yearlings with any eye toward deciding which horse gets plugged into which division of the Team Lukas operation.

Friday, the road show shifts to Chicago. There, he will personally administer the finishing touches on Steinlen, the defending champion and current favorite to win the Arlington Million on Sunday, which, coincidentally, is Lukas’ 55th birthday. The gift, it seems, is already wrapped.

By now, anyone with a passing interest in thoroughbred racing could draw the broad outlines of Lukas’ career, or be asked to draw a flow chart for the sport and turn back a reasonably accurate one by always pencilling in Lukas’ name at the top.

If he is not the most beloved trainer in the world, he is, without argument, the winningest by every measure. In fact, it is precisely because of his success that people who follow the racket know what a flow chart is. But when he arrived on the thoroughbred scene 11 years ago, Lukas inspired little more than ridicule.

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A former basketball coach, he brought organization and an obsessive-compulsive personality into a world of gypsy crones and world-renowned savants. Lukas didn’t arrive at a track so much as beautify it; he had assistants rake the gravel and attach planters outside his barn. He favored expensive cowboy boots and flashed even more-expensive jewelry, whereas the already-monied deans of the profession still walked around in the zippered models, hands stuck deep in their pockets so as not to encourage any more thievery than was necessary.

Everyone else was waiting for luck or money or magic to deliver just one good piece of horseflesh stretched over the right configuration; Lukas was collecting as much as he could beg, borrow or steal. Everyone else wanted one horse who could win everywhere; Lukas wanted a hundred, some of whom were bound to win somewhere.

Everyone else was building a career; D. Wayne Lukas, even then, was building an empire. What made it so hard to swallow is that he turned out to be so right so fast.

Lukas won the Preakness after just two years and his first Eclipse Award as the nation’s leading trainer four years after that. And even if the speed with which he achieved success was just impressive, the size of his successes were unprecedented.

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In 1984, Lukas broke Charlie Whittingham’s earnings record, then nearly doubled it the following year and has bettered his own record every year since. In 1985, he won a record 70 stakes. In 1986, he became the first trainer ever to collect more in purse earnings than the nation’s leading jockey. In 1987, he saddled a staggering 1,700 horses and won 92 stakes and some of his colleagues continued to whisper behind his back that he would win twice as many races “if he were any good.”

That determination, Lukas said, depends on your definition.

“Anybody who’s still criticizing our program is looking pretty silly by now,” Lukas said matter-of-factly. “The bottom line is to win, make money and develop champions. Those are the things that are supposed to be done in this game and we’ve accomplished all those.

“What some of the old-timers took 50 or 60 years to accomplish, we’ve done in 10. And so the criticism,” he added, “is less and less. ... You can hammer somebody only so long.”

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Indeed. Handicappers likely would bet his name more if they didn’t see it so often, and so often on different horse’s lines in the same race. As of two weeks ago, Lukas had saddled 827 horses this year and won in the neighborhood of $10 million. His closest pursuers had 578 and $3.6 million, respectively, and the disparity only promises to grow.

He has been hammering the competition so mercilessly for so long now that most of the rest of the racing world wishes he would take up golf, take a few days vacation, stay out late going to a movie, sleep in once in a while, just kind of ... chill out.

It won’t happen anytime soon.

“Every day is a vacation for me. If I lose, it’s still a good day, just not as much fun. ... I like the finer things in life, but I don’t need them to keep score,” Lukas concluded, “and I don’t feel like I have to apologize for any of it.

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“I don’t think God looked down one day and said, ‘Give this Wisconsin boy all the runners in the world.’ I earned them.”


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