AQHA Hall of Fame member honored with the Eclipse Award of Merit
Capping a season in which he became the all-time leading Triple Crown trainer, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA), Daily Racing Form and the National Turf Writers And Broadcasters today announced that D. Wayne Lukas, the most successful trainer in the history of horse racing, will be honored with the Eclipse Award of Merit for a lifetime of outstanding achievement in the Thoroughbred industry.
Lukas, 78, will be presented the Award of Merit at the 43rd Annual Eclipse Awards dinner and ceremony on Saturday, January 18 at Gulfstream Park Racetrack and Casino in Hallandale Beach, Fla. The Eclipse Awards are presented by Daily Racing Form, Breeders’ Cup and The Stronach Group and produced by the NTRA.
“In light of the people who have received this award in the past, it is humbling and special to me and coming from so many of those who I admire in this industry,” said Lukas. “I’ve won a few Eclipse Awards in my career but this is the center accomplishment.”
“Wayne Lukas has been a dominant figure in Thoroughbred racing for more than a quarter century,” said Alex Waldrop, NTRA President and CEO. “On behalf of all of the Thoroughbred industry, we congratulate Wayne for his outstanding career on the racetrack. We also honor him for the many owners and trainers he has brought into the game and for always putting our sport in the national spotlight in a positive manner.”
Born in Antigo, Wisc., Darrell Wayne Lukas had a keen interest for horses at an early age. He bought, sold and raced horses while a teacher and high school basketball coach, after earning a master’s degree in education from the University of Wisconsin. He began a successful career training Quarter Horses in the late 1960’s before turning over to Thoroughbreds full time in 1978. He rose quickly to prominence winning the 1980 Preakness with Codex and by 1990 became the first trainer to earn more than $100 million in purses. Lukas became the first to surpass the $200 million barrier in 1999, leading the nation in money won by trainers 14 times in his career. During this period, he established a nationwide stabling operation at the major American racing centers, incorporating an elaborate, innovative and efficient approach to the racing business, and taught several young assistant trainers those same principles.
Nicknamed “The Coach,” Lukas has had a number of his protégés move on to prominent careers of their own, including Bobby Barnett, Randy Bradshaw, Mark Hennig, Mike Maker, Kiaran McLaughlin, Todd Pletcher, Dallas Stewart and George Weaver.
Pletcher, a five-time Eclipse Award winner, said, “No one is more deserving of this award. Wayne set the bar for so many of us and I am grateful to have been a part of his team. His tutelage is responsible for the successes I and many of my colleagues share today. The fact that he is still winning Classics after over three decades since his first Classic win and still wakes up at the crack of dawn with such a passion for the game speaks volumes of what he’s all about.”
Bold, brash and always impeccably dressed, Lukas won his first Kentucky Derby in 1988 with Winning Colors, only the third filly to ever win the “Run for the Roses.” He won the Derby three more times with Thunder Gulch (1995), Grindstone (1996) and Charismatic (1999). Further, he won six Triple Crown races in a row starting with Tabasco Cat winning the 1994 Preakness and continuing through Grindstone’s Derby triumph in 1996. When Oxbow won last year’s Preakness, Lukas broke the Triple Crown all-time victory mark of 13 he shared with James E. “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons.
When the sport’s leading breeders formed the Breeders’ Cup in the 1980’s, Lukas said at the time, “I told (son) Jeff and my staff that this is going to be bigger than anyone imagined,” and went after the event’s multi-million purses with enormous gusto. Lukas became the first trainer to win three races on a single Breeders’ Cup card in 1988 at Churchill Downs and has gone on to be the leading trainer in the Breeders’ Cup history with 19 victories.
Lukas believes that while he’s most associated by his champion horses, he emphasizes that equal credit should go to the owners who have employed him over the years, such as Bob French, Eugene V. Klein, William T. Young and Robert Lewis.
“Bringing new people into the game was paramount,” said Lukas. “You’re only as strong as the people you work for. I am most proud of the great friendships we developed with these owners. These people are so competitive in business and they’ve found something to get the competitive juices flowing again. It’s very challenging in many ways. We need to get new owners to come into our game because it’s the best kept secret in sports.”
Lukas has trained 24 Eclipse Award winning horses, and three of those were voted Horse of the Year: Lady’s Secret in 1986, Criminal Type in 1990 and Charismatic in 1999. He has won the Eclipse Award as Outstanding Trainer on four occasions (1985,’86, ’87 and 1994).
Lukas was inducted into Thoroughbred Racing’s Hall of Fame in 1999 and was inducted into the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame in 2007, becoming the first ever to be honored by both institutions.
Commenting on his 2013 season, Lukas recalled, “We’re only as good as the caliber that we have with us and I felt we did more with less than any year I can remember. We developed three grade 1 winners (Oxbow, Will Take Charge and Strong Mandate) and probably a champion. It was a very gratifying year and gave validity to what we’re doing.”
The Eclipse Awards are named after the great 18th-century racehorse and foundation sire Eclipse, who began racing at age five and was undefeated in 18 starts, including eight walkovers. Eclipse sired the winners of 344 races, including three Epsom Derbies. The Eclipse Awards are bestowed upon horses and individuals whose outstanding achievements in North America have earned them the title of Champion in their respective categories. Those awards are voted by NTRA, Daily Racing Form and the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters (NTWAB). Eclipse Awards also are given to recognize members of the media for outstanding coverage of Thoroughbred racing.
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the June 19, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News