Originally created 05/16/02

Baffert, Lukas won't be overlooked in Preakness



BALTIMORE -- Don't get him wrong, D. Wayne Lukas was impressed with War Emblem's victory in the Kentucky Derby. But darn, rival trainer Bob Baffert is one fortunate fellow.

"He's extremely lucky, period," Lukas said Wednesday after arriving at Pimlico. "Not only this year, but all the time. He seems like he's always landing on his feet. He's been on scholarship his whole life."

Baffert acquired War Emblem three weeks before the Derby, then watched him cruise to a wire-to-wire, four-length win over Lukas' Proud Citizen at odds of 20-1.

Earlier this week, Lukas said if Saudi Prince Ahmed Salman didn't buy War Emblem from 84-year-old Russell Reineman for $900,000, then "we win the Derby."

Baffert accepts the lucky label.

"You got to be in this game," Baffert said after settling War Emblem into his stall at the Preakness stakes barn. "It's one of those things where we never quit. We never give up. We keep going, looking ... you can't rest on your laurels. And so we got lucky. He could have easily run up the track and we look like dummies."

No matter the circumstances, winning is what Baffert and Lukas do best, especially in the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes, the races that make up the Triple Crown.

On Saturday, Baffert shoots for his fourth Preakness victory in six years with War Emblem; Lukas goes for his sixth, which would put him one behind all-time leader Robert Walden.

Should War Emblem win, the front-running dark bay colt would give Baffert a third chance at saddling the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

If Lukas wins with either Proud Citizen or Table Limit, it would be the Hall of Famer's record 14th Triple Crown race victory, breaking a tie with "Sunny Jim" Fitzsimmons.

Between them, Lukas and Baffert have won 17 of the last 24 Triple Crown races - Lukas has 10, Baffert seven.

It was arrival day for many of the 13 runners expected for Saturday's 1 3/16-mile Preakness. Besides War Emblem and Proud Citizen, others arriving from Kentucky were Booklet, Easyfromthegitgo, Harlan's Holiday and Table Limit.

While War Emblem and Proud Citizen went off as Derby long shots, they will not be overlooked in the Preakness. Both were last-minute arrivals on the Derby scene, and bettors didn't buy into a potential 1-2 finish from Baffert and Lukas despite their Triple Crown credentials.

Proud Citizen was Lukas' last-chance Derby horse, and made the field by winning the Lexington on April 20. War Emblem won the Illinois Derby, but Reineman had no plans to send him to the Derby.

"I think nobody thought we were in it to win it," Lukas said of his own situation. "They thought we were in it to be in it. They thought, 'That's nice, Wayne's going to run another one.' We, in our hearts, really thought we could win it with some help."

The result was the biggest exacta payoff in Derby history - $1,300.80 for a $2 bet. Don't expect a similar payday in the Preakness. The dynamic duo has everyone's attention.

"Everybody knows what type of horse he is now," Baffert said. "But that's something that's part of racing, something we have to deal with now."

Lukas says War Emblem is the horse to beat: "He's got a high cruising speed, and he's definitely the one we're going to deal with here. I would fear him the most for the simple reason that he's outrun them all."

While War Emblem had no challengers in his Derby run, he'll likely be chased from the start by Booklet, Menacing Dennis and perhaps Medaglia d'Oro.

Trainer Nick Zito sends out Crimson Hero and Straight Gin on Saturday. He's won two Derbys and a Preakness since 1991, and often is included with Baffert and Lukas when it comes to Triple Crown talk.

"It doesn't make us better trainers," Zito said. "You see what Baffert did. I mean, he goes insane now if he doesn't have a horse in the Derby. It's very simple. It's a good thing probably, it's not a bad thing. That's what sports is about. Who wants it more?"

Since his Cavonnier lost the 1996 Derby by a nose to Grindstone, Baffert has become obsessed with winning Triple Crown races. He doesn't care how, he just wants to show up in the winner's circle.

Lukas has felt the same way for decades. He owns the record for most starters in the Derby (39) and the Preakness (28 after Saturday). He says winning Classics isn't a matter of numbers. A long-range plan is necessary, not to mention quality horses.

"If you get a mind set that they're important enough and you have a strong 2-year-old program, you have a chance to do some good," Lukas said. "Bob and I come from the same school in that area. We think these races are important. It gives us a chance to not only be here, but to win it."

Lukas was among the first to gear his operation to winning Triple Crown races. He won the first of his five Preakness Stakes in 1980 with Codex. Baffert's Triple Crown run began with Cavonnier.

Then there's the horse issue.

"Both Bob and I deal with quality horses and that's the key," he said. "You have to be careful - the trainer's not important, the rider's not important, the horse is the most important ingredient. If we have them coming through our barn, we have a chance to win this thing more than the guy probably getting a chance every six or seven years.

"We wake up every spring and say, 'Which one of these two or three is going to get us here?' We fully expect to be here."

One way or another.