BALTIMORE — With five Preakness Stakes victories in the past 32 years, D. Wayne Lukas has a lot of things figured out.
He knows it’s time to worry about a horse when he’s 30-1 “and nobody’s asking for your opinion.”
Lukas has 30-1 shot Optimizer in Saturday’s Preakness, but sitting on a bench in the far corner of the stable area at Pimlico Race Course, the Hall of Fame trainer isn’t worried in the least.
“I don’t have to wake up every morning and wonder if I can train one of these. I’m really comfortable where I’m at. After being in 30 of these, I don’t feel any pressure at all. I’ve been there,” Lukas said. “I’ve had the highs and the lows in this particular race. I’m very comfortable with what I’ve got, in what I’m doing. I’m realistic about my chances. I know we have to do a lot better than what we’ve been doing in order to get there.”
Optimizer has just one win in 10 lifetime races and likely would need a perfect run — plus breaks to go his way — to pull off the upset in the middle jewel of the Triple Crown. Lukas said his horse needs to run better than he has so far in his career.
“He’s showed some brilliance or I wouldn’t have him here. But he’s got to improve. He has to have a trip. He has to get a chance to run,” Lukas said. “If he gets a run at them, he’s very sound and he finishes very well.”
Barring a setback, Optimizer will go on to the Belmont Stakes on June 9, and Lukas said he was using the 1 3/16-mile Preakness as something of a setup for the 1.5-mile Belmont.
But winning the Preakness would be a treat for the 76-year-old.
“In racing, the ones that surprise you, you get there with a 30-to-1 shot or so forth really are the ones that are kind of fun because you say, ‘Damn, we really did something special,” Lukas said.
Went the Trip Well?
Barry Irwin, whose Team Valor owns Went the Day Well, didn’t realize how poorly the horse started the Kentucky Derby until watching the race on replay and immediately lamented an opportunity lost.
“When I watched that blimp shot and I saw how he finished, I wanted to throw up because I knew that if he broke cleanly that he could’ve won that race,” Irwin said.
As it happened, Went the Day Well finished fourth, but he’s the co-third choice on the morning line for the Preakness at 6-1, and he might have the best chance to beat Bodemeister (8-5) and I’ll Have Another (5-2).
“My horse is very adaptable,” said trainer Graham Motion, who captured last year’s Derby with Animal Kingdom. “I think that’s one of his biggest attributes. He can kind of do anything you want with him.”
Few are talking about Went the Day Well, but the lack of attention isn’t a bad thing.