Lukas prepares Titletown Five for Derby Trial
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP)
D. Wayne Lukas won't mind working overtime for the Kentucky Derby if it fulfills a friend's dream.
Especially one who's a fellow Hall of Famer - Paul Hornung.
A Louisville native, Hornung sold programs at Churchill Downs as a youth. Now he co-owns Titletown Five with former Green Bay Packers teammate and defensive end Willie Davis. Hornung is hoping Lukas, one of the most successful trainers in racing, can get Titletown Five into the May 4 Kentucky Derby by winning Saturday night's $175,000 Grade 3 Derby Trial.
The 1-mile feature race highlights opening night of the 38-date spring meet at the historic track that hosts next weekend's Kentucky Oaks and 139th Derby. Lukas also trains Derby entrants Oxbow and Will Take Charge, and will run Derby Trial hopeful Tour Guide.
''He's got a real long background in the Derby and it means so much to him,'' Lukas said Friday of Hornung's interest in the first jewel of thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown. ''So, it'd be wonderful. Even if we actually don't win it but are in it, it would mean a lot to him.''
The Trial is the final chance to make the Kentucky Derby field and awards 20 points to the winner. That could be enough to earn one of the final spots in the field that is capped at 20 horses.
Titletown Five - named by Wisconsin native Lukas in recognition of Green Bay's unofficial nickname, Hornung's jersey number and the Packers' five Super Bowl appearances - has no points but has a first, second and third-place finish in six career starts. Ninth in last month's Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, he will start the Derby Trial from the No. 9 far position and is listed at 5-1 odds.
The strong possibility of making the Derby clearly excites Hornung, who would rank it above winning four NFL championships including the first Super Bowl with the Vince Lombardi-led Packers in the 1960s.
''It'd be the greatest thing that ever happened to me in sports,'' said Hornung, 77. ''I've only had about three or four horses and had pretty good luck with three or four I had. ... I can't believe that I was thinking about what I'm going to do about (Derby) tickets.
''I'm going to go ahead and let them rob me and buy one of those big rooms.''
Several challengers are poised to thwart Hornung's dream, including morning line favorite Zee Bros (5-2), trained by Bob Baffert.
Todd Pletcher meanwhile could face more decision-making if Forty Tales (3-1) or Capo Bastone (5-1) win. He already has three of the top six points earners in Derby co-favorite Verrazano, Revolutionary and Overanalyze, and three more qualifiers in Palace Malice, Charming Kitten and Winning Cause.
Still unsure if he'll run Winning Cause in the Derby, Pletcher could have another decision on how the May 4 field will look though he's not looking at it as a Derby prep for either horse.
Pletcher is stretching sprinter Forty Tales to a mile for the first time and considers Capo Bastone a better horse than he showed in finishing ninth in last month's Grade 3 Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park.
''I think it's an interesting race,'' Pletcher said. ''Hopefully there's a quick pace up front for both horses.''
At the very least, the Trial may have more impact than it has in recent years. The last horse to come back and run in the Derby was Don't Get Mad, who finished fourth in 2005.
For Hornung, it could mean the realization of a dream that Lukas believes can happen with Titletown Five.
''We gotta win the ... thing, you can't mail that thing in,'' said Lukas, who has trained four Derby champions. ''That's a tough race tomorrow night. There's four or five horses that I have great respect for. But I think we drew beautifully, that was the best possible draw and we're taking a ... nice colt over there. He's OK.''
Derby notes: Falling Sky (59.60) and Vyjack (1:00.40) both breezed five furlongs on Friday morning. ... Weekend forecasts of rain have led Pletcher to move workouts for five of his six horses up from Sunday to Saturday. Winning Cause will not work until Sunday or Monday. ... Mylute and Black Onyx will also work on Saturday, with Java's War and Frac Daddy possible. ... Goldencents is scheduled to arrive Saturday from California after working six furlongs in 1:16.20 at Santa Anita on Thursday.
AP Freelance Writer Josh Abner contributed to this report.