May 07, 1995

Everywhere he turned in Louisville last week, trainer D. Wayne
Lukas bumped into somebody wanting to give him an answer to the
Question: Should he run the brilliant bay filly Serena's Song
against colts in this Saturday's 121st Kentucky Derby or take the
less daring course of sending her against members of her own sex
in the Kentucky Oaks? The debate began every day at 4 a.m. among
regulars at the Krispy Kreme doughnut shop where Lukas stops on
his way to Churchill Downs. Often it would continue when he was
grazing a horse outside the barns on the backstretch: Fans walking
along Longfield Avenue would approach the high chain-link fence
and offer advice.

One afternoon, as Lukas was waiting to cross West Muhammad Ali
Boulevard in downtown Louisville after giving a luncheon speech, a
passing motorist bellowed, ``Don't run Serena!'' Lukas smiled
behind his trademark dark glasses. ``That's funny,'' he said. ``I
just got a long letter from a handicapper in California who told
me in the strongest possible terms that I was making the mistake
of a lifetime if I didn't run her in the Derby. One way or
another, everybody feels strongly about it.''

The racing public began taking sides on April Fools' Day, when
Serena's Song toyed with seven colts while galloping to an
effortless three-length victory in the 1 1/8-mile Jim Beam Stakes
at Turfway Park. Never mind that the Beam field was mediocre at
best. Serena's Song was so dazzling that as Lukas and her owners,
Robert and Beverly Lewis, stood in the winner's circle, fans
encouraged them to forget the Oaks (which is run the day before
the Derby) and go for the roses. Said Lukas coyly, ``She would add
some pizzazz to the race, wouldn't she?''

As the Derby countdown continued, the pro-Oaks crowd argued that
the filly race would be easier to win and would enable Serena's
Song to be fresher for other important races down the road. They
pointed out that when Lukas ran the filly Althea in the 1984
Derby, she finished next to last, despite being the favorite, and
raced only once more before being retired. But the pro-Derby crowd
countered by talking about Winning Colors, the big roan filly who
in 1988 gave Lukas his only Derby victory. Why not take a shot,
they argued, in a year when all the colts had holes in their

Every time Lukas sifted through his options, he ended up on the
side of the Oaks, mainly because he also trains Timber Country,
the long-striding colt who clinched last year's 2-year-old
championship by winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill
Downs. Although Timber Country failed to win his first three 1995
starts, all in California, Lukas just shrugged and said the colt
didn't like the Santa Anita track. It would be different at
Churchill Downs, he promised. If not, Lukas figured he had a nice
backup Derby colt in Thunder Gulch, winner of the Fountain of
Youth and Florida Derby.

The Lewises, who own a third of Timber Country, have insisted all
along that the decision about Serena's Song would be left to
Lukas. And why not, considering the success they've enjoyed since
entrusting him in 1993 with some of the fortune they've made from
beer distributorships in California? When Lukas spent $150,000 of
their money to buy the daughter of Rahy at the '93 summer yearling
sale at Keeneland, he told Robert Lewis, ``This will be our first
stakes winner.'' And by last year's Breeders' Cup, Serena had won
two stakes. But her finest performance came when she lost by a
head to stablemate Flanders in the Juvenile Fillies.

When Flanders was retired because of injuries to her right
foreleg suffered in that race, Serena's Song moved to the front
of her class. She began 1995 by winning three premier filly
races in California -- the Santa Ynez, Las Virgenes and Santa
Anita Oaks. Then the Beam was added to her string of pearls. Was
she good enough for the Derby? Lukas thought and listened. And
listened and thought.

Last Friday afternoon, only eight days before the Derby, Lukas
called the Lewises with his decision. After saying that he was
leaning toward the Oaks, Lukas once again went through the pros
and cons, then said, ``You've got a dead-fit horse, so you can go
either way. If you go for the Derby, you're flirting with
greatness and immortality. After all, only once in their lives are
horses 3-year-olds at 5:35 p.m. on the first Saturday in May.''
At that point the Lewises said they would like to try Serena's
Song in the Derby. Lukas said he was comfortable with that because
he believes her ability and tactical speed give her a good chance
to join Regret (1915), Genuine Risk (1980) and Winning Colors as
the only fillies to win the Derby.

Her rivals may be interested in knowing that Serena's Song does
have a weakness. ``She loves peppermints,'' said Lukas one morning
while grazing the filly. ``She'll climb over that Cyclone fence to
get one. She'll follow me to Buffalo to get one.''

To prove his point, Lukas reached into his pocket and pulled out
a peppermint. Immediately the filly lost interest in the grass,
pricked her ears and put her comely nose in Lukas's hand. It
was, well, a sweet scene. But now that we know that candy is the
way to her heart, only one question remains: How does she feel
about roses?

COLOR PHOTO: BILL LUSTER [headshot of Serena's Song]