D. Wayne Lukas back at track after suffering horse kick to the head
NEW YORK (AP) -- Even a kick in the head couldn't keep D. Wayne Lukas away, not with the Belmont Stakes coming up on Saturday.
The Hall of Fame trainer reported to work as usual Wednesday morning, sporting an angry red gash across his left temple. Lukas got hurt a day earlier when one of his horses reared up and struck him. He was taken to a hospital where a plastic surgeon stitched the wound.
Hours later, Lukas was back on a pony, preparing 20-1 shot Optimizer for the Belmont.
"The bad part is I still have a headache," he said. "The good part is I got a date with the head nurse, and sold two doctors horses while I was there."
While he could joke the day after, the incident was no laughing matter at the time for the 76-year-old, who has won four Belmonts.
"The big thing is they couldn't get the bleeding stopped, even at the hospital," Lukas said. "I wasn't scared, but I was sitting here pressing it with a dirty old towel. They took a CAT scan and I'm sure there's a little concussion. I've had injuries with horses before, but never had one paw me in the head."
After sitting up all night icing the injury, Lukas went back to work.
"I rode out and back with all my horses. I don't miss," he said. "I didn't enjoy it quite as much. By the time I trained the fourth horse, I was ready to get off the pony. That jarring didn't help much this morning."
Lukas had a suggestion for the local officials following his ambulance ride over New York's notoriously rough roads.
"The racetracks here are getting a percentage of the slots money at Aqueduct," he said. "I'm going to vote we don't give it to the racetracks but to the highway department to get the roads fixed. In the back of that thing hitting those potholes I thought if I wasn't hurt by the horse, I'm going to be killed by this thing. We hit some potholes and I thought we were airborne."
WAYS TO LOSE: J. Paul Reddam, owner of Triple Crown contender I'll Have Another, dropped by to visit his colt on Wednesday and reflected on the challenge ahead.
A veteran handicapper, Reddam knows the many ways the Belmont can be lost.
"Where I sit on the inside and look at the race, I can think of a dozen reasons why the horse could lose," he said. "From the outside, he looks pretty tough. I don't know whether to listen to the inside or outside."
And then Reddam listed some of the potential pitfalls.
"Just go back in history," he said. "He could get smashed at the gate. His shoe could come loose. The pace of the race could get messed up. Maybe he wakes up that morning and starts coughing. We believe he is suited to the mile and a half but that's just speculation at this point."
And there is one final fear factor. I'll Have Another might run his race only to encounter a rival who delivers an even better performance.
"That's why they run them," Reddam said. "That's why the public is wrong two out of three times."
A bad omen for Reddam was the 4-5 early odds assigned to I'll Have Another after he drew post No. 11 in the 12-horse field.
"My own experience has been that when we are overwhelming favorites, we always lose," he said.
The Belmont will mark the first time I'll Have Another will be favored in eight career starts.
CHANGING HORSES: Owner Ahmed Zayat already took two shots at I'll Have Another in the Triple Crown as Bodemeister ran second in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
While Bodemeister ended his Triple Crown run with a neck loss in the Preakness, Zayat and trainer Bob Baffert are in the Belmont with a fresh challenger in Paynter.
The lightly raced colt will make just his fifth start in the 1 1/2 mile Belmont.
"If you ask me personally, I always thought Bodemeister is a very nice colt," Zayat said. "Bob Baffert, from day 1, thought Paynter was the better horse. He thinks he's a really, really nice horse."
Paynter will get an opportunity to prove that as the 8-1 fourth choice with Mike Smith aboard. The colt has run twice in stakes races, finishing fourth in the Santa Anita Derby and second in the Derby Trial.