The four-time Derby-winning trainer finds himself with not one but two legitimate chances after Will Take Charge and Oxbow ran 1-2 in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park over the weekend.
“The hill gets a little steeper at this point,” the 77-year-old Hall of Fame trainer said.
The results send Will Take Charge and Oxbow into the AP’s latest Run to the Roses Top 10 list of Derby contenders at Nos. 7 and 8, respectively.
Verrazano remained No. 1, with stablemate Shanghai Bobby second. Both colts are trained by Todd Pletcher, a former Lukas assistant.
Super Ninety Nine, one of trainer Bob Baffert’s Derby hopefuls, finished fifth in the Rebel as the 6-5 favorite. The colt drops off the list, as does Code West, another Baffert trainee.
Will Take Charge, with Jon Court aboard, was sent off at odds of 28-1 and came through with a rousing stretch run to catch Oxbow in the final strides and win by a head. The victory comes after a sixth-place finish in the Southwest over a sloppy track.
“The best thing that can happen to you if you are a horse trainer is to have a bad memory,” Lukas said.
Lukas has sent a record 45 horses to the Derby since 1981. He won in 1988 with the filly Winning Colors, in 1995 with Thunder Gulch, in 1996 with Grindstone and in 1999 with Charismatic.
Since 2000, though, it’s been slim pickins for one of the sport’s most influential and successful trainers. After his streak of consecutive Derbys ended in 2001, Lukas has sent out only seven starters. His best finish was second in 2002 with Proud Citizen – four lengths behind War Emblem. Last year, he finished 11th with Optimizer.
Lukas could have another contender, or two, for the May 4 Derby by the end of this weekend. He plans to send out Channel Isle in the Spiral at Turfway Park on Saturday, and Titletown Five in the Sunland Derby on Sunday. Titletown Five is named for the Green Bay Packers and is co-owned by Paul Hornung, who wore No. 5.
Should Lukas win Derby No. 5, he would become the oldest trainer to win the race.
Charlie Whittingham was 76 when he won with Sunday Silence in 1989.