d wayne lukas
d wayne lukas

D. Wayne Lukas / Bleacher Report (p)

“I’ve won a few Eclipse Awards in my career but this is the center accomplishment.”

- D. Wayne Lukas

Hall of Fame conditioner D. Wayne Lukas has been chosen to receive the Eclipse Award of Merit for a lifetime of outstanding achievement in the Thoroughbred industry. Lukas had a historic comeback season in 2013, which included wins in the GI Preakness Stakes, GI Hopeful Stakes, and GI Travers Stakes.

“In light of the people who have received this award in the past, it is humbling and special to me and coming from so many of those who I admire in this industry,” Lukas said. “I’ve won a few Eclipse Awards in my career but this is the center accomplishment.”

NTRA President and CEO Alex Waldrop said, “Wayne Lukas has been a dominant figure in Thoroughbred racing for more than a quarter century. On behalf of all of the Thoroughbred industry, we congratulate Wayne for his outstanding career on the racetrack. We also honour him for the many owners and trainers he has brought into the game and for always putting our sport in the national spotlight in a positive manner.”

Possessing a Master’s Degree in Education, Lukas started out as a high school teacher and basketball coach, while buying, selling, and racing horses on the side. He later made training his full-time job, starting with Quarter Horses before moving on to Thoroughbreds. Quickly rising to national prominence, Lukas was the first trainer to earn over $100 million in purses in 1990 and became the first to surpass $200 million nine years later. He led the nation in money won by trainers 14 times throughout his career.

Known as ‘The Coach’, several of Lukas’ students have gone on to become top trainers, such as Todd Pletcher, Mike Maker, Mark Hennig, Kiaran McLaughlin, and Dallas Stewart.

Pletcher, a five-time Eclipse Award winner himself, said, “No one is more deserving of this award. Wayne set the bar for so many of us and I am grateful to have been a part of his team. His tutelage is responsible for the successes I and many of my colleagues share today. The fact that he is still winning Classics after over three decades since his first Classic win and still wakes up at the crack of dawn with such a passion for the game speaks volumes of what he’s all about.”

Winner of three renewals of the GI Kentucky Derby, Lukas annexed his first Run for the Roses with Winning Colors (Caro), the third filly ever to win that prestigious test, in 1988. He won six Triple Crown races in a row starting with Tabasco Cat (Storm Cat) in the 1994 Preakness and ending with Grindstone (Unbridled)’s 1996 Derby victory. Lukas’ Preakness victory this year with Oxbow (Awesome Again) made him the all-time leading Triple Crown trainer with 14 wins, surpassing James ‘Sunny Jim’ Fitzsimmons’ previous record of 13 wins.

When the Breeders’ Cup was created Lukas said, “I told Jeff [Lukas] and my staff that this is going to be bigger than anyone imagined.” He became the first trainer to win three races on a single Breeders’ Cup card at his home base of Churchill Downs’ in 1988 and is the leading trainer in Breeders’ Cup history with 19 victories. Lukas believes the owners deserve as much credit as the horses in contributing to the success of his operation.

“Bringing new people into the game was paramount,” said Lukas. “You’re only as strong as the people you work for. I am most proud of the great friendships we developed with these owners. These people are so competitive in business and they’ve found something to get the competitive juices flowing again. It’s very challenging in many ways. We need to get new owners to come into our game because it’s the best-kept secret in sports.”

Lukas has trained 24 Eclipse Award winners, including three that received Horse of the Year honors, and he has won the award for Outstanding Trainer four times. Besides being a member of Thoroughbred Racing’s Hall of Fame, he is also a member of the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame becoming the first to ever be honored by both institutions.

With regard to his 2013 season, Lukas said, “We’re only as good as the caliber that we have with us and I felt we did more with less than any year I can remember. We developed three Grade I winners (Oxbow, Will Take Charge and Strong Mandate) and probably a champion. It was a very gratifying year and gave validity to what we’re doing.”

Extract from Thoroughbred Daily News