Few modern horse trainers in horseracing have achieved the success garnered by legendary horseman D. Wayne Lukas. Known for his Stetson hats and plain-spoken manner, Lukas has strolled the paddocks of America’s greatest racetracks with horses such as Charismatic, Thunder Gulch, and Grindstone. With 17 Breeder’s Cup wins to his credit, Lukas is the winningest trainer to ever saddle a horse in racing’s premier event.
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Lukas’ humble beginnings in a Wisconsin dairy town as the grandson of a Czechoslovakian immigrant saw Lukas race his pony at the Antigo County Fairgrounds. This would contribute to his lifelong love of the sport. Yet, his parents had higher hopes for Lukas and compelled him to enter college at the University of Wisconsin where Lukas became a physical education major and received his Master’s in Education. An assistant coaching job in the basketball program at Wisconsin University soon followed and it appeared that Lukas’ career path was written.
Horseracing still called to him, however, and by 1972 he was establishing himself as a trainer of quarterhorses at California based race tracks, like his fellow horseman Bob Baffert. Lukas was an exceptional conditioner from the very start. His horses earned over $1 million in each of the six years before he began training thoroughbreds full-time in 1978. In 1984, Lukas expanded his stable and began sending horses to compete in New York as well as California, making him one of the first bi-coastal Supertrainers with horses at multiple tracks.
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Lukas’ son Jeff was severely injured and almost lost his life in 1993 when he was ran down by one of Lukas’ top horses, Tabasco Cat. The horse had gotten loose and charged through the barn, running over Jeff and leaving him comatose. Thankfully, Jeff recovered and Tabasco Cat went on to have a successful career.
The complete list of D. Wayne Lukas’ accomplishments is far too vast to list here in its entirety, but here are a few of the highlights that led to Lukas’ induction into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1999:
- 4-time Eclipse Award for Trainer of the Year (1985, 1986, 1987, 1994).
- Earnings of over $235 million
- Four Kentucky Derby wins (1988, 1995, 1996, 1999)
At the age of 79, Lukas does not show any sign of slowing down anytime soon. He returned to claim the Preakness Stakes with Oxbow in 2013 and proved yet again that his remains a force to be reckoned with in the sport of horseracing.