BALTIMORE - With every replay of the Kentucky Derby he watches, D. Wayne Lukas regards his decision to enter Oxbow and Will Take Charge in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes more of a no-brainer.
Of the horses who tracked just off pacesetter Palace Malice through fast early fractions, the diminutive Oxbow was the only one with any fight remaining in the stretch as he gutted out a respectable sixth-place run.
Had Will Take Charge not been forced to check sharply to avoid a tiring Verrazano in the lane of the 1¼-mile race, Lukas is convinced the 17-hand colt at worst would have been in the top three rather than eighth.
“I think they both had a chance to be a part of the equation if they got different scenarios,” the Hall of Fame trainer said.
While Oxbow and Will Take Charge did nothing to dissuade Lukas from a pre-planned trip to Baltimore, the inclusion of stablemate Titletown Five on the Preakness-bound van was less obvious, but he defends it just as staunchly.
Titletown Five, with Julien Leparoux aboard, is the longshot in the race, 30-1, starting from the No. 3 post.
Two of his three horses will have new riders.
Mike Smith replaces Jon Court aboard Will Take Charge. Leparoux lands on Titletown Five, replacing Gary Stevens, who retains his ride on Oxbow.
“I thought if we could get three world-class Eclipse Award riders, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give my clients that opportunity,” Lukas said. “Nothing against Jon Court. I rode him all spring and had good luck with him. I always tell the riders we’re only going to date; we’re not going to get married. Jon understood. He took it very well.”
Few horsemen have mastered the 1 and 3/16-mile Preakness the way Lukas has, winning Pimlico Race Course’s classic five times. If Titletown Five ends up being the sixth Preakness winner for the 77-year-old icon, it will go down as one of his more remarkable training feats.
Owned by a partnership that includes NFL Hall of Famer Paul Hornung — as well as Lukas himself — Titletown Five is a handsome mover on the track but is still working on striding fluidly. Titletown Five broke his maiden fourth time out by 9 lengths at Churchill Downs last October but has lost three consecutive races since, including a ninth-place finish in the Louisiana Derby and a fourth-place effort in the Derby Trial.
Though the dark bay colt has been on or near the lead in all of his seven career starts, Lukas has a different strategy for Saturday. Leparoux will be aboard the colt for the first time in an effort to leave Titletown Five with something at the finish.
“I think his style will fit that horse and maybe take a little off his fastball,” Lukas said.
“His last two races they put him into the race too much. I’d like to see him relax about three, four lengths off [the pace]. I don’t think he’ll be on the lead and I really don’t want him on the lead, either. He’s not as one-dimensional as his form is going to show him to be.
“He’s a more talented horse than you people realize,” Lukas said. “Given the right scenario and the right ride he’s pretty darn talented.”
Mike Farrell of the Associated Press also contributed to this story.