- The Washington Times - Friday, May 15, 2009

BALTIMORE | There they were, two Hall of Fame trainers and former feisty rivals who once owned the second leg of the Triple Crown, sitting together wearing sunglasses inside a tent at Pimlico during Wednesday’s Preakness draw. All is well between D. Wayne Lukas and Bob Baffert, at least until race time Saturday.

“Once they put ‘em in the gate, we’ll be competitive,” Lukas said. “When the race is over, we’ll turn the page and go on.”

Back when the ponies were more popular than now, the pair loomed over the sport via their achievements, personalities and spirited competition that sometimes grew testy. Lukas has had 13 winners in Triple Crown races, Baffert eight. From 1994 to 2002, Lukas and Baffert won the Preakness seven times, waging a chippy, personal battle that spiced up racing.

“Oh, it was heated,” said Baffert, 56, who has saddled four Preakness winners. “It was heated. I remember back in ‘96, the rivalry was really hot and heavy. We would hardly speak to each other. But he raised the bar. He made me a better horse trainer. He made me better at what I do, and I respect him for that.”

If there was any real tension between the two, Lukas has tried to downplay it.

“The media’s always thought we were bitter rivals,” the 73-year-old said. “But we’ve always been close friends. … I think it makes for better copy. I think you guys have to fill the last couple of paragraphs and said things that probably aren’t true.”

Lukas also said he and Baffert (along with another Hall of Fame trainer, Nick Zito) are “business partners” in the Thoroughbred Racing Legends Fund, a venture to raise money for the purchase and training of 2-year-olds and yearlings.

This is the first time both Baffert and Lukas have worked at the Preakness since 2003, when each ran horses for the same trainer. But neither Baffert’s Senor Swinger nor Lukas’ Scrimshaw could derail Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide, which took the Preakness by nine lengths.

Until now, Baffert had not been back. But he has a good one this time in Pioneerof the Nile, which ran second to Mine That Bird in the Kentucky Derby earlier this month and was the early-line second betting choice in the Preakness after filly Rachel Alexandra. Lukas was last here in 2007. He will saddle his 33rd and 34th Preakness horses since 1980, more than any other trainer, although Luv Gov and Flying Private are prohibitive long shots.

Lukas’ last Preakness win, his fifth, came with Charismatic in 1999.

“He’s still a damn good horse trainer,” Baffert said. “But, you know, he doesn’t have the bullets.”

Perhaps racing’s most successful trainer, Lukas was in full reign when Baffert won his first Kentucky Derby in 1997 and earned the Eclipse Award as the best trainer for that year. He went on to win the honor the next two years (Lukas has won it four times). Some viewed it as a changing of the guard. The needling, which had already begun, would continue. Typical was Lukas’ comment during Preakness week in 2002 that Baffert “has been on scholarship his whole life” - meaning he was lucky.

Replied Baffert, “They don’t give scholarships to dummies.” Then War Emblem, which took the Kentucky Derby two weeks earlier, won the race.

“We got along, in a way, but we really enjoyed beating each other,” Baffert said.

Baffert, who was elected to the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame last month, said their competitive nature derives from working with quarter horses early in their careers.

“That’s the way quarter horse guys are,” he said.

They first crossed paths nearly 40 years ago. After he graduated from high school in Arizona in 1971, Baffert asked Lukas for a job as a gallop boy. Lukas turned him down, “but he was so nice to me,” Baffert said. Later, Baffert said he told Lukas, “I’m glad I didn’t work for you because you probably would have fired me after a week because I can’t get up that early.”

If their relationship has mellowed, so have they. Their legacies intact, both have assumed calmer outlooks on life.

“As you get older, you think back to all the big races you’ve won, and you learn to appreciate things as you get older,” Baffert said.

Added Lukas: “We’re at the point in our careers probably where we can finish up the week, win, lose or draw, with a lot more enjoyment and appreciation for it than some of other guys who are here for the first time.

“We realize the magnitude of the event and the importance of it, but we don’t get all caught up in ourselves. Like, some of these guys are having trouble sleeping. Bob and I are fine. We’re not having any trouble sleeping at all.”

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