In my book, if ever a horseman was cut out to be commissioner of horse racing, it’s D. Wayne Lukas, who still holds most of the records out there but has not gotten the stock in recent years that he did during his heyday.
I had the good fortune of interviewing Lukas on the phone the week leading up to the Breeders’ Cup, and I’ve already written much of what he told me in print editions and on here.
I’m not sure Lukas would ever want a job that would most likely be more of a headache than anything else, but you can tell when talking to him that he holds a great love for the tradition of Kentucky racing. He lives in Louisville now and it sounds like world peace would be easier to achieve than getting him to move back to California. During my 30-minute interview, though, he did admit to missing the Southland at least a little bit.
“I miss the camaraderie,” he said. “I made so many friends out there among the trainers and so forth and some of my best friends are still training there. I don’t miss the traffic, like anybody else, (but) I enjoyed those racing days out there. The synthetics kind of threw me for a loop and I saw that coming and made the right move.
“I’m in the mecca of racing back here, living in Louisville. The people back here have a great appreciation for the horse. The horse is revered and trainers have a little bit different status in the community, too. When I lived in California, California is so callous in so many ways that I never really got to know the neighbors. I lived there 13 years in Arcadia and never knew the neighbors on either side of the house. Out here, I live on a golf course here in Lake Forest, a golf community, and I know everybody in the community because you’re a horseman. It’s a whole different status deal.”
Lukas would also like to see the Breeders’ Cup become a permanent staple of Churchill Downs because of the crowds it attracts each time it is run there. Breeders’ Cup XXVII will be run at Churchill next year and Lukas believes the folks will come in droves again.
“Statistically, it’s a no-brainer,” he said. “I mean, in economic times when we’re trying to showcase the sport and make the most of it, Churchill is the only one that gets them 80,000 people (per day).”
Lukas seems to think the 82,578 that Santa Anita drew over the two days last year and the 96,496 who turned out this year would pale in comparison to the numbers that would show up for the event each year at Churchill.
“See, that would equate to about 160 (thousand) here, and that can’t be ignored I don’t think. But I don’t begrudge California having it every few years, and New York either. New York is making great strides, and New York has a racing program that is going to take off in the next three or four years. They’ve got the ship righted there. Belmont can handle big crowds if they can get the people interested.”
Agree or disagree with Lukas, but one thing is for certain — the man knows the game and what ails it. I don’t agree with everything he says, but racing could do a lot worse than D. Wayne Lukas when it comes to somebody heading the sport and steering it back in the right direction.