NEW YORK — Even a kick in the head couldn’t keep D. Wayne Lukas away, not with the Belmont Stakes coming up on Saturday.
The Hall of Fame trainer reported to work as usual Wednesday morning, sporting an angry red gash across his left temple.
Lukas got hurt a day earlier when one of his horses reared up and struck him. He was taken to a hospital where a plastic surgeon stitched the wound.
Hours later, Lukas was back on a pony, preparing 20-1 shot Optimizer for the Belmont.
“The bad part is I still have a headache,” he said. “The good part is I got a date with the head nurse, and sold two doctors horses while I was there.”
While he could joke the day after, the incident was no laughing matter at the time for the 76-year-old, who has won four Belmonts.
“The big thing is they couldn’t get the bleeding stopped, even at the hospital,” Lukas said. “I wasn’t scared, but I was sitting here pressing it with a dirty old towel. They took a CAT scan and I’m sure there’s a little concussion. I’ve had injuries with horses before, but never had one paw me in the head.”
WAYS TO LOSE: J. Paul Reddam, owner of Triple Crown contender I’ll Have Another, dropped by to visit his colt on Wednesday and reflected on the challenge ahead.
A veteran handicapper, Reddam knows the many ways the Belmont can be lost.
“Where I sit on the inside and look at the race, I can think of a dozen reasons why the horse could lose,” he said. “From the outside, he looks pretty tough. I don’t know whether to listen to the inside or outside.”
And then Reddam listed some of the potential pitfalls.
“Just go back in history,” he said. “He could get smashed at the gate. His shoe could come loose. The pace of the race could get messed up. Maybe he wakes up that morning and starts coughing. We believe he is suited to the mile and a half but that’s just speculation at this point.”
And there is one final fear factor. I’ll Have Another might run his race only to encounter a rival who delivers an even better performance.
“That’s why they run them,” Reddam said. “That’s why the public is wrong two out of three times.”
CHANGING HORSES: Owner Ahmed Zayat already took two shots at I’ll Have Another in the Triple Crown as Bodemeister ran second in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
While Bodemeister ended his Triple Crown run with a neck loss in the Preakness, Zayat and trainer Bob Baffert are in the Belmont with a fresh challenger in Paynter.
The lightly raced colt will make just his fifth start in the Belmont.
“If you ask me personally, I always thought Bodemeister is a very nice colt,” Zayat said. “Bob Baffert, from Day 1, thought Paynter was the better horse. He thinks he’s a really, really nice horse.”