MADISON, Wisconsin (April 30, 2018) — Antigo native, UW–Madison alum, and Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas returns to Churchill Downs for the first time since 2015. This will only be Lukas’s tenth Kentucky Derby since he last won in 1999. For the 144th annual Run for the Roses, Lukas’s hopes are pinned to a three-year-old named Bravazo.
Lukas is easy to spot as one of a handful of trainers who still mounts a horse and rides onto the track. He pays close attention, maintaining a hands-on approach with the horses and the operation. “I demand a lot, and it’s pretty intense, but that has probably allowed me to achieve some records we wouldn’t have, had we not had that work ethic or intensity,” he told On Wisconsin magazine.
While working on his master’s in education at UW–Madison, Lukas was a student basketball coach under head coach John Erickson. The lessons he learned — the importance of strong observation skills and the fact that good coaches are also good teachers — were invaluable. Lukas uses those same principles when training horses.
“You try to evaluate clearly what their capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses are,” he says. “It takes a lot of observation and gut reaction to determine what a horse is capable of doing and what he isn’t.”
Lukas is a four-time Derby winner, having trained Winning Colors (1988), Thunder Gulch (1995), Grindstone (1996), and Charismatic (1999). He’s had more horses win Triple Crown races — 14 — than any other trainer.
After so many years, Lukas now finds himself competing against some of the very trainers he trained. Last year’s Derby winner was trained by Todd Pletcher, who served as an assistant under Lukas. Pletcher brings four Derby hopefuls this year. Lukas is pleased with their success.
“It’s like the fine, proud father. I feel like the Manning [football] family with Peyton and Eli,” he laughs, referring to the NFL-quarterback sons of Archie Manning, himself a former quarterback. “It’s probably the thing I am most proud of — much more than, say, winning a great race somewhere.”
And yet, Lukas is not yet finished winning races. “I told some people the other day, I’ll ride out there on my saddle horse one morning and just fall off, and that’ll be the end of it.
You can watch Lukas go for his fifth Kentucky Derby win on May 5 at 5:45 p.m. on NBC.
Contact: Tod Pritchard, email@example.com, 608-609-5217, @WisAlumni