Lukas has nearly started as many horses in the Preakness (43) as all the trainers in this year’s running combined (44), even including Baffert. He advises younger trainers not deviate from the techniques that brought them to Triple Crown races; something tempting to attempt while observing more experience trainers during the lead up.
“The biggest advice I give the guys are that are in the first time Derby or Preakness, it is easy to get caught up in the hype and change up what got you there or what you know is the best thing, such as mirroring the techniques of other successful trainers,” warns the onetime basketball coach. “I watched some of the young guys at the Derby, and I just drew a line through those horses. They’re going to get a hell of an education here come Saturday. It’s a game of experience. There’s no How-To book. There is nowhere to look up, ‘How do you win the Preakness?’ Go talk to Lukas and Baffert.”
Lukas has nothing but praise for the only trainer with more Preakness wins than he: Baffert.
“We’ve had great luck here,” Lukas said. “Bob and I train a lot alike. We’ve got 13 of them between us, and I think our style of training lends itself well to this type of race and this track.”
Lukas has been a perennial for the middle gem for nearly 40 years, a run that began in the era when then-Philadelphia 76er Julius Erving would ask him questions about horse racing. Former Michigan football coach and athletic director Bo Schembechler was with him when his 1999 Derby winner Charasmatic won the Preakness, underestimated again, at 8-1.
“I’d love to see [Dr. J] again,” Lukas said. “We developed a friendship over the Preakness, I developed a lot of friendships here over the years at the Preakness, like Pete Herrmann, who coached basketball at the Naval Academy.”
Outside of horse racing, professionals haven’t always heeded the opinions of Lukas. In earlier days, Lukas, in Louisville, bonded with then-Indiana University basketball coach Bob Knight.
Lukas shared how Knight would have him sit in the third row at his practices to critique them on a legal pad.
“I’d lay it on his desk,” chuckled Lukas. “He never looked at it.”
When they partnered on ownership of a horse named after an English writer, Knight, known for his often-testy relationship with the media, exclaimed, “For Christ’s sake, I get a horse and it’s named after a writer?”
Lukas, however, took some of the General’s advice.
“Bobby taught me something right away,” Lukas tells. “When you’re in practice, never shoot with the kids. They’ll always think you were a good player until you do that. Don’t ever expose yourself by picking up a basketball. As a coach don’t ever shoot. They’ll find out how bad you were.”
That’s not a problem the old coach ever has to worry about around the racetrack.