D. Wayne Lukas: Teetering on the Brink of Racing Immortality?

Duane WinnCorrespondent IJune 3, 2009

LOUISVILLE, KY - APRIL 28:  D. Wayne Lukas the trainer of Flying Private is pictured during the morning training for the 135th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on April 28, 2009 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

What do Tigers Woods and D. Wayne Lukas have in common?

They're both courting immortality in their respective sports.

Woods has amassed 14 majors, four fewer than Jack Nicklaus.

Lukas has 13 Triple Crown victories, including a sweep in 1995 with two different horses. He is tied for the top spot in classics victories  with Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons.

Woods and Lukas are men whose competitive fire runs white-hot.

"I don't go to an event that I don't think I can win," Woods told pgatour.com.

"I'm not here to eat the crab cakes," Lukas said famously before a Preakness.

This burning desire to be the best  led them to redefine what it takes to be at the top of their professions.

Woods didn't merely beat the field; he humbled it.

Lukas gobbled up stakes victories like M & M's.

But there the similarity ends.

Time is clearly on Woods' side.

At age 34, Woods should have at least 10 years of productive golf ahead him.

Remember that the Golden Bear captured six majors after the age of 35. His last, the 1986 Masters, came in the twilight of his career at age 46.

Time, however, isn't Lukas' ally.

Lukas no longer dominates the Triple Crown, the Breeders Cup or any other big-time race that he chooses to enter.

He's saddled nearly 100 Triple Crown entrants, but less than a pair of handfuls in the new millennium.

Indeed, Lukas, 73, hasn't saddled a Triple Crown winner since Commendable captured the 2000 Belmont Stakes.

Yet, Lukas is back to take another run at Fitzsimmons in Saturday's Belmont Stakes with two colts named Flying Private and Luv Gov.

The former, a son of 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, has showed glimpses of living up to his name, especially  by finishing a fast-closing fourth in the Preakness after encountering all sorts of traffic trouble.

Luv Gov, sired by Ten Most Wanted, finally broke through into the win column on May 2. Lukas entered him in the Preakness 13 days later where he finished a desultory eighth.

Lukas will saddle his charges in the unaccustomed role of spoiler. His former assistants, Kiaran McLaughlin, who trains Charitable Man, and Todd Pletcher, whose charge is Dunkirk, will share the role of kingpins with Mine That Bird trainer Bennie Woolley Jr.

They'll vie at a venue where Lukas enjoyed a remarkable string of success in the mid-1990's with victors Tabasco Cat (1994), Thunder Gulch (1995), Editor's Note (1996) and again, in 2000, with Commendable.

Both Tabasco Cat and Thunder Gulch flashed plenty of talent before they arrived for the  Belmont Stakes. Tabasco Cat had placed third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and  second in the Santa Anita Derby before winning the Preakness. Thunder Gulch had won the Remsen, the Fountain of Youth, and the Florida Derby.

His other two Belmont winners, Editor's Note and Commendable, both displayed a similar career arc as Lukas' entries this year.

Off their past performances, Flying Private seems to be the most talented of the two. He finished second in the Grade Two Lane's End in March and then followed that effort with a respectable fifth-place finish in the Arkansas Derby.

Yet, it's Luv Gov, Lukas said, who might savor the added distance of the Belmont Stakes and surprise the field.

Who are we to argue?

Rivals, as well as bettors, have overlooked Lukas’s horses before. In 1999, Charismatic captured the Derby at odds of 31-1. Later that year, Cat Thief won the Breeders’ Cup Classic at 20-1. In 2000, Commendable copped the Belmont at odds of nearly 19-1 and his filly Spain won the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at 53-1.

Results like these lend instant  credibility to fellow trainer Larry Jones' witticism a few years back that a donkey would be a legitimate threat under Lukas' tutelage.

Flying Private and Luv Gov have two victories in 23 starts between them. Neither colt has captured a graded stakes.

Perhaps Lukas can work out the kinks in his magic wand to add one more entry to his already impeccable resume.