Lukas comes full circle

March 14th, 2007

On March 4, 2007, D. Wayne Lukas was inducted into the American Quarter Horse Association Hall of Fame, during the AQHA Convention in Houston, Texas.

Born in Antigo, Wisconsin in 1935, Lukas gave up his high school coaching career in 1968, to train and race horses, something he had already been doing summers, in South Dakota. He won his first stakes race on July 19, 1964 with a 25 to 1 longshot in the South Dakota Quarter Horse Futurity.

Over the next decade, Lukas (pictured in 1975 with Spencer Childers) rose to the top ranks among Quarter Horse trainers with 23 champions before shifting to Thoroughbred racing in the late 1970s. In one transitional week in July 1978, he won three Quarter Horse stakes at Los Alamitos and two Thoroughbred stakes as Hollywood Park.

But his Quarter Horse credentials did not carry much weight in Kentucky, where he felt too self conscious to ask to be shown a Secretariat filly during the Keeneland Sale. He did purchase Terlingua, however, after watching her being walked out for other interested buyers. She went on to earn more than $420,000, and Lukas was on his way.

Lukas became the first Thoroughbred trainer to earn $100 million and later was the first to reach the $250,000 mark. He is the most successful trainer in the history of the Breeders Cup with 18 wins and has also won 13 Triple Crown races, including four Kentucky Derbys – the first in 1988 with a filly, Winning Colors.

Lady’s Secret, another Secretariat daughter, was bred by Robert Spreen and owned during her career by Eugene Klein, former owner of the San Diego Chargers. Lukas saw Lady’s Secret through a career that included 22 stakes wins and $3,012,325. In 1986, she defeated the nation’s best males four times and won eight Grade 1 stakes races, a one-season record that still stands. She ended the 1986 season by winning the Breeder’s Cup Distaff and garnered an Eclipse Award as Outstanding Older Female Horse, as well as the coveted Horse of the Year Award, a rarity for a female.

Nicknamed “The Iron Lady” as much for her heart and grit as her gray coat, Lady’s Secret was the first female to win the Whitney Stakes since Gallorette in 1948. Retired at five, she sold to Fares Farm for $3.8 million in 1989 at the Keeneland November Sale, and died on March 4, 2003.

Lady’s Secret was inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame in 1992; Lukas in 1999. He is the only person to ever be inducted into the the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame and the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame.

Lukas still has a hand in the Quarter Horse World – he raised a yearling that was a sale topper at the Ruidoso Quarter Horse Sales in 2006, and is proud of his Quarter Horse heritage.

“When we were dispersing Mr. Klein’s horses before his death, Wayne had several of the most prominent Thoroughbred people surrounding him,” remembered Bruce Hill, who worked for Lukas at the time. “And Walter Merrick walked up and wanted to look at some horses.

“Wayne stopped right in the middle of it and said, ‘I want you guys to meet the John Wayne of the Quarter Horse world. I still have a bronze of Easy Jet on my desk, just to remind me what a really good horse looks like.’

“Wayne hasn’t forgotten where he came from.”