D. Wayne Lukas ’57, MS’60:
Still Racing Strong
In May, D. Wayne Lukas ’57, MS’60 did it again. At seventy-seven, the Hall of Fame trainer won the Preakness Stakes, one of horse racing’s biggest competitions. And while some might find that surprising due to his age, he sees his years as an advantage.
“There’s no how-to book in thoroughbred racing,” says Lukas, “so experience is paramount. The trial-and-error in making mistakes, then correcting them, then observing these horses on a daily basis is such a learning process.”
The win marked his sixth Preakness victory overall. He’s also logged four wins at the Kentucky Derby and four at the Belmont. One of America’s most respected trainers, Lukas is the only person to be inducted into both the Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse Halls of Fame.
Despite his success, he still follows the same rigorous schedule that he has for years.
“I always believed if you were going to achieve anything, you had to get up and get going. So, I wake up every morning at 3:30 — no matter where I am in the country, no matter what time zone. I try to get to the track somewhere around 4:30,” he says.
During racing meets at his home track at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, he’s easy to spot as one of a handful of trainers who still mounts a horse and rides onto the track. He pays close attention, maintaining a hands-on approach with the horses and the operation.
“I demand a lot and it’s pretty intense, but that has probably allowed me to achieve some records we wouldn’t have, had we not had that work ethic or intensity,” he says.
While working on his master’s in education at Wisconsin, Lukas was a freshman basketball coach under head coach John Erickson. The lessons he learned — the importance of strong observation skills and the fact that good coaches are also good teachers — were invaluable. Lukas uses those same principles when training horses.
“You try to evaluate clearly what their capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses are,” he says. “It takes a lot of observation and gut reaction to determine what a horse is capable of doing and what he isn’t.”
After so many years, Lukas now finds himself competing against some of the very trainers he trained. Many, such as 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Todd Pletcher, served as assistants under Lukas. He’s pleased with their success.
“It’s like the fine, proud father. I feel like the Manning [football] family with Peyton and Eli,” he laughs, referring to the NFL-quarterback sons of Archie Manning, himself a former quarterback. “It’s probably the thing I am most proud of — much more than, say, winning a great race somewhere.”
And yet, Lukas is not yet finished winning races.
“I told some people the other day, I’ll ride out there on my saddle horse one morning and just fall off, and that’ll be the end of it. I don’t have any intention of retiring in any way, shape, or form.”
Published in the Winter 2013 issue