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Derby Notebook: Trainer Lukas deals with Derby absence with grace, humor

Wednesday, May 02, 2001

By Pohla Smith, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- This has been a tough week for four-time winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas at Churchill Downs and not because he has no horse to enter in the Kentucky Derby for the first time in 21 runnings.

Racing officials have stopped him from wearing his signature cowboy hat when he takes to the track on his training pony. Instead, they're making him wear a protective helmet because of a previously unenforced rule.

Lukas has adopted the stylish black velveteen cap worn by show horse riders. The hat doesn't go well, though, with his other trademark apparel -- fringed leather chaps.

When he's back at the barn, he wears a green cap embroidered with the phrase "13 Crowns." That refers to the number of Triple Crown races his horses have won during his Hall of Fame career.

Lukas is taking his Derby absence with grace and good humor.

"I'll be back for the next 20 years," he said. "We have all kinds of 2-year-olds. We're stronger. We have more numbers, we spent more money. If we're not back here, someone should evaluate me."

Lukas also was asked if any of his well-heeled clients had offered to keep his streak alive by buying him one of the horses sure to make the Derby.

"In 2001 it's pretty hard to buy a horse like that," he said. "They're going for such high prices, even poor people won't sell.

"I'd like to have one of those horses in April. I'd unbuckle it in a hurry."

Unwanted competition

Trainer Jim Cassidy was pleased with Jamaican Rum's workout yesterday, but he left the track in a bad humor anyway.

Another horse unexpectedly joined the workout after the first quarter mile. Fortunately, Jamaican Rum didn't get sucked into a speed duel that might have robbed him of energy he will need Saturday.

Cassidy called the rider "some idiot."

"I don't know who it was, but I'll be on a hunt to find out," he said. "It's like an invasion of privacy. Jorge kept my horse within himself, but unless you plan it, it shouldn't happen."

Clockers timed Jamaican Rum in a modest leg-stretching time of 1 minute, 1 3/5 seconds.

Maiden Derby

Jockey Donnie Meche, 26, is counting the moments until he and his mount Fifty Stars go to post Saturday in the Derby.

It will be the first one for Meche, who rides mostly on the Southwest circuit that includes Texas and Arkansas.

"I'm so excited," he said. "I almost rode in the Derby last year for Mr. [Wayne] Lukas. I didn't care if he put me on a pony as long as I got in the gate."

Fifty Stars, winner of the Louisiana Derby, is no pony.

"I feel he's got a huge shot," Meche said.

Meche worked the horse an easy half mile in 50 seconds yesterday.

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