May 28, 1995

Had it all worked out differently last week for D. Wayne Lukas,
had his gambles failed and his faith gone unrewarded, you can bet
that Lukas-bashing would have become as popular as crab-smashing
in Baltimore's seafood restaurants. That's the price of being
``the straw that stirs racing's drink,'' which is how Lukas, the
sport's highest-profile trainer, was introduced at a Preakness
brunch last Friday. But as dusk fell on Pimlico Race Course the
next day, there was Lukas, smiling behind his trademark dark
glasses as he watched Timber Country being hosed down and gussied
up after a Preakness victory that brought a happy ending to a week
in which the trainer ``had my head on the chopping block.''

As odd as that may sound, that was the situation after Lukas won
the Kentucky Derby on May 6 -- then found he had to defend himself
for hyping the wrong colt. In the Derby, Timber Country finished
third behind his overlooked stablemate Thunder Gulch, who went off
at 24-1. The odds were so high at least in part because Lukas kept
telling anyone who would listen that Thunder Gulch was a nice
colt, sure, but not in the same class as Timber Country, last
year's 2-year-old champion, or even Serena's Song, the brilliant
filly who is also in his stable. Even on the morning after the
Derby, Lukas met the media outside his Churchill Downs barn
wearing a green Timber Country baseball cap, a statement more
pointed than anything he could say.

Asked about Timber Country's Derby finish, Lukas blamed jockey Pat
Day's inability to extricate the colt from traffic in time to make
a serious run. But Lukas refused to dump Day after the Derby, when
some members of the Timber Country camp -- the colt is owned by
partners William T. Young, Graham Beck and Bob and Beverly Lewis
-- argued that his laid-back riding style didn't fit the laid-back
colt's personality.

On the Monday before the Preakness, Day worked Timber Country at
Churchill Downs, with strict orders from Lukas to ``startle him if
you can.'' The idea was to sharpen the colt, get him to run more
aggressively -- something to snap his 0-for-4 record in 1995. When
the work was over, the :59 4/5 clocking for five furlongs didn't
impress Lukas and Day nearly as much as the way the colt came off
the track. ``He went jiggedy-jog, just tugging on the bridle,''
Day said. ``He hadn't done that all spring.''

That same day, Lukas made an announcement about Serena's Song
that caused almost as much of a stir in the racing world as had
his decision three weeks earlier to run her against colts in the
Derby: He was shipping her to Baltimore along with Timber Country
and Thunder Gulch so she could run against fillies in the
Black-Eyed Susan the day before the Preakness. The Lewises, who
own the filly, backed the decision.

By the time the Lukas horses were checked into the Pimlico stakes
barn on Wednesday afternoon, the filly was the subject of another
debate, again inspired by Lukas's decision. In the Derby she was
pressured into setting a suicidal pace that cost her any chance of
victory. Mercifully, when it became obvious that Serena's Song was
out of gas, jockey Corey Nakatani wrapped up on her even though it
meant she finished 16th in the 19-horse field. So, observers
wondered, didn't she need a long rest? Wasn't running her back in
the Black-Eyed Susan putting her at risk of a career-ending

As he waited for the Black-Eyed Susan to begin, Lukas knew the
vultures were circling. ``You don't think my head's on the
chopping block, do you?'' he said. To his relief, Serena's Song
responded with a nine-length victory.

But there was still the main business of the week, the second
jewel of racing's Triple Crown. After the fifth race on Saturday,
Lukas visited the Pimlico jockeys' room to see Day and Gary
Stevens, who had ridden Thunder Gulch to victory in the Derby. The
trainer devoted most of his attention to Day, who won last year's
Preakness and Belmont for him with Tabasco Cat. Lukas reminded Day
to ``be a pilot, not a passenger.'' And Day, long one of the
nation's top riders, understood what was at stake. ``My contract
lasts only until the end of the race,'' he said.

Going into the Preakness, Lukas already had turned Pimlico into
his personal shooting gallery, knocking off stakes wins on
Thursday (Lilly Capote in the Miss Preakness), Friday (Serena's
Song in the Black-Eyed Susan) and Saturday (Commanche Trail in the
Maryland Budweiser Breeders' Cup). Such a run makes even the most
optimistic trainers wary, and after supervising the final
preparation of Thunder Gulch and Timber Country, Lukas wondered,
``Do you think we have one more bullet left in the gun?''

Day, aggressive from the moment Lukas gave him a leg up, provided
the answer. He tapped Timber Country with his whip in the post
parade ``to let him know it was time for business,'' the rider
said, and he whacked him on the left side as soon as the starting
gate opened. The result was as desired: Timber Country was never
worse than sixth in the 11-horse field, had plenty of gas when Day
asked him to dig in on the turn for home, and made a powerful move
in the stretch to take the lead inside the 16th pole.

Timber Country and Day vindicated Lukas's faith by taking a
half-length victory over Oliver's Twist, who slipped through on
the rail with a late kick. Thunder Gulch, whose game run proved
the Derby was no fluke, was third by a neck. The winner covered
the 1-3/16 miles in a respectable 1:54 2/5 on a fast track.

The result gave Lukas his fourth consecutive win in Triple Crown
races, dating back to last year's Preakness. That ties the record
set by Lucien Laurin, who followed Riva Ridge's 1972 Belmont
victory with a '73 Triple Crown sweep by Secretariat, of whom you
may have heard. If either Timber Country or Thunder Gulch wins the
Belmont Stakes on June 10, Lukas will be the first trainer to win
all the Triple Crown races in the same year with more than one
horse. ``We'll get them ready,'' Lukas said, ``then let the horses
decide the rubber match.''

After the Preakness, his head off the chopping block for a while
at least, Lukas wouldn't take Timber Country into the infield
winner's circle until all the partners had shown up. ``All of you
lead him in there,'' Lukas ordered. The partners did as they were
told and marched off. When you're the straw that stirs the drink,
you're allowed to call the shots.

COLOR PHOTO:BILL FRAKESTimber Country swept past the boys in the hoods, Thunder Gulch and Oliver's Twist (10).[Timber Country leading Thunder Gulch and Oliver's Twist in the Preakness Stakes]