May 19, 2012

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas arrived at Pimlico Race Course before the sun came up Saturday, just to make sure there were no unwelcome surprises awaiting him on the day of his 25th Preakness.

The 76-year-old horse racing legend said he set his alarm for 3:30 a.m. and was at the track at 4.

"I do that every day, no matter where I am," Lukas said. "I just want to make sure everything goes smooth here. By the time we get to this point, all we're trying to do is make sure you don't have anything upsetting happen."

Wearing his trademark cowboy hat and sitting on a small bench in front of the Pimlico Stakes Barn around 8:30 - a good 10 hours before the second leg of the Triple Crown was scheduled to get under way - Lukas monitored the behavior of his Preakness entrant, Optimizer, as rowdy fans began pouring through the turnstiles.

"It's a little bit unsettling to finish out the morning because of all the activity on the street," he said. "The horses pick up on the excitement real quick."

He wasn't nervous, and it had nothing to do with the fact that the odds were stacked at 30-1 against Optimizer reaching the winner's circle after the race. Ever since his initial Preakness in 1980, Lukas had maintained an even keel whether he's saddled up the favorite or a long shot.

"I never really got too keyed up, even in the first ones," Lukas said. "I get a warm, fuzzy feeling afterward if we win, but I don't get uptight or nervous beforehand."

Lukas said his sense of calm comes from the days when he was a high school head coach in Wisconsin for nine years.

"I think athletics settle you in," he said.

On this day, his lengthy time at the barn was made easier by having several entrants in the Preakness undercard.

"I always felt like in the Triple Crown series, it helps if you have a few other horses running in other races. It kind of breaks up the day," he said. "We're going to run in three others stakes today. It will move it along a little bit quicker. But it's still a long day of waiting, waiting, waiting."

His wait for a victory in a graded race ended Saturday when Hamazing Destiny won the Grade 3 Maryland Sprint Handicap. Lukas had gone 116 graded stakes without a victory before Hamazing Destiny won for the first time in 11 races since September 2010.

"It's a good way to start the day," he said.

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