Horse Racing

D. Wayne Lukas Trainer Profile: Lukas Goes for His Fifth Belmont Win with Seize the Grey

FanDuel Staff
FanDuel Staff
D. Wayne Lukas Trainer Profile: Lukas Goes for His Fifth Belmont Win with Seize the Grey

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas has been synonymous with horse racing for almost half a century: not bad for someone whose first career wasn’t even horse racing. He went to college on a basketball scholarship, got a master’s degree in education, and coached high school basketball in Wisconsin through much of the 1960s. However, Lukas also grew up around horses, and trained them part-time while he was coaching basketball.

Lukas went full-time with horses in 1968, and with that, the rest was history. He started in quarter horse racing, dominating the sport in California in the 1970s. But, he has trained almost exclusively Thoroughbreds since the end of the 1970s. And, that does mean “almost”—in the late 1990s, when he was at the height of his Thoroughbred prominence, he picked back up with training a few quarter horses, including Grade 1 winner Worth a Look! Lukas is a legend in both breeds: not only is he in the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame, but he is also in the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame.

On the Thoroughbred side, he has one of the most impressive records of any trainer in history. He has 4,930 wins and almost $297 million in earnings. He has won the Eclipse Award for outstanding trainer four times. He trained 1986 Horse of the Year Lady’s Secret, 1990 Horse of the Year Criminal Type, and 1999 Horse of the Year Charismatic. He has 20 Breeders’ Cup victories, more than any other trainer, most recently with colossal long shot Take Charge Brandi in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. And, his history in the Triple Crown series has been nothing short of legendary.

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D. Wayne Lukas in Triple Crown races

D. Wayne Lukas won the very first Triple Crown race he ever entered: the 1980 Preakness Stakes, which he won with Codex. He was dominant in the series through the 1980s and 1990s. Even into the 21st century, when many trainers his age have retired or at least stepped back, Lukas is still on his pony every morning and still looking for the next big horse. And, that ethic keeps paying off: his 15 wins in the Triple Crown series are the most in history, two ahead of “Sunny” Jim Fitzsimmons.

Kentucky Derby

With 50 Kentucky Derby starters between 1981 and 2024, D. Wayne Lukas is second behind only Todd Pletcher in the number of horses he has brought to Churchill Downs for the Run for the Roses. He has a solid strike rate over that time: four Kentucky Derby winners, and six more horses who hit the board.

His first Kentucky Derby winner was the great Winning Colors, who became just the third filly in the history of the Run for the Roses to win. He got hot again in the Kentucky Derby in the late 1990s, with three wins in five years: Thunder Gulch (1995), Grindstone (1996), and Charismatic (1999).

Impressively, in each of those years in the 1990s when he won the Kentucky Derby, Lukas also finished third with Timber Country (1995), Prince of Thieves (1996), and Cat Thief (1999). His other money finishers in the Kentucky Derby include his first-ever runner Partez (3rd, 1981), Dance Floor (1992), and Proud Citizen (2nd, 2002).

Preakness Stakes

Between 1980 and 2024, D. Wayne Lukas has started 48 horses in the Preakness Stakes. He has won the race seven times: tied with Robert Wyndham Walden and behind only Bob Baffert, who has won eight.

Lukas’ success in the Preakness began with Codex, his first-ever Triple Crown starter, who won the race in 1980. He won again with Tank’s Prospect (1985), Tabasco Cat (1994), Timber Country (1995), Charismatic (1999), Oxbow (2013), and most recently Seize the Grey (2024).

In addition to his seven victories in the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, Lukas has also hit the board in the Preakness seven other times. His other money finishers in the Preakness include superstar filly Winning Colors (3rd, 1988), Corporate Report (2nd, 1991), Thunder Gulch (3rd, 1995), Editor’s Note (3rd, 1996), Proud Citizen (3rd, 2002), Scrimshaw (3rd, 2003), and Bravazo (2nd, 2018).

Belmont Stakes

D. Wayne Lukas has run relatively few horses in the Belmont Stakes: 25, which is a lot for a trainer, but only about half as many as he has started in either the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness. Even so, he has a solid record of success.

Lukas has won the race four times, with all of those victories coming in those halcyon days from the mid-1990s into the very beginning of the 2000s. He won his first Belmont Stakes in 1994 with Tabasco Cat. The next year, Thunder Gulch’s victory completed a sweep of the Triple Crown races for his barn: he won the Preakness and Belmont, with Timber Country taking the Preakness. Editor’s Note won Lukas his third straight Belmont in 1996, and Commendable earned him his fourth in 2000.

Two other starters hit the board. Charismatic’s 1999 Triple Crown bid fell just short when he was injured a few strides before the wire, though he still finished third and recovered to stand stud. Oxbow, the 2013 Preakness winner, also ran second to Palace Malice in the Belmont.

D. Wayne Lukas in the 2024 Belmont Stakes

Though D. Wayne Lukas does not tend to run as many horses in the Belmont as he does in other legs of the Triple Crown, he is not shy to press on to the test of the champion, especially if a horse runs well in the Preakness Stakes. That is the case with Preakness winner Seize the Grey, his first Belmont Stakes runner since Bravazo in 2018.

Seize the Grey

As is typical for a young horse trained by D. Wayne Lukas, Seize the Grey comes into the Belmont as one of the more experienced horses in the field: he has 10 starts, the most of any of the 10 runners in the field. However, after a hit-or-miss prep season, the colt has found the best form of his life through the spring.

The Belmont Stakes being run at Saratoga is good news for Seize the Grey, as is the possibility for rain on Belmont day. Seize the Grey broke his maiden at second asking last July at Saratoga, over a sloppy track, and came back to finish third in the Skidmore over Saratoga dirt rated muddy. Though that race was originally carded for turf, it was still a solid effort in that he was closing from far off the pace at 5 ½ furlongs, a distance significantly shorter than his best.

In terms of distance, his Preakness win showed an almost surprising dimension. His pedigree, on paper, suggests distance: he is by Arrogate, a Breeders’ Cup Classic winner whose foals have preferred going longer. However, looking through his Kentucky Derby prep season, his better races were at 1 1/16 miles, and he appeared to turn a corner when winning the Pat Day Mile (G2) on the Kentucky Derby undercard.

He did win the Preakness at 1 3/16 miles, though—and in the Belmont, he will have to answer whether that was a question of a cozy lead, or whether it was a sign that he was growing into wanting more ground. That is the key question in the Belmont for Seize the Grey, especially since he will have more to contend with up front than he had in Baltimore. The rail post suggests he will have to go for it early. He will likely have company from Dornoch, a need-the-lead type, and The Wine Steward and perhaps even Mindframe will keep him company as well.

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