When trainer D. Wayne Lukas comes to the Preakness, he stays in the same hotel each year.
But he never makes his reservations early.
"You can point for the Kentucky Derby, but you can't plan beyond it," he said. "You never know if you're going to make it to Step 2."
But Lukas usually does.
Since he ran his first horse in the Preakness in 1980 -- and won the race with Codex -- he has had at least one runner 11 of the previous 13 years in the second leg of the Triple Crown and has hit the board 50 percent of the time.
Four trainers in the past 30 years have won the Preakness twice -- the late Henry Forrest (Kauai King, 1966; Forward Pass, 1968), retired Frank Whiteley (Tom Rolfe, 1965; Damascus, 1967), Jack Van Berg (Gate Dancer, 1984; Alysheba, 1987) and Lukas (Codex, 1980; Tank's Prospect, 1985).
But none has started as many horses as Lukas has in the race or consistently picked up as many checks.
Union City, his entry this year, is Lukas' 15th Preakness starter. In addition to the two wins, he has had a second, a third and three fourths in 14 tries.
He said he is mystified by Union City's dismal Derby performance. Picked to win by a consensus of Daily Racing Form handicappers and a good many horsemen and fans, the 3-year-old Private Account colt finished 15th of 19.
"It shook me a little bit and has been hard to handle, because I was absolutely confident that he was going to run well," Lukas said.
Lukas, 57, has run in the Derby 13 straight years and said he considered his three best shots to win were with Badger Land (who finished fifth as the second choice in 1986), Winning Colors (who won in 1988) and Union City.
"I've never had a horse work as well as he did for the Derby or come up to the race any better. I fully expected him to blow by the field when they turned for home," he said.
Instead, the horse failed to switch leads properly, lost his action and never posed a threat.
"If he had bled or come up with an ankle, he would have had a legitimate excuse. But nothing showed up. It still mystifies me. He just threw in a clunker. I decided I might as well give him a second chance."
Now, Lukas hopes Union City is another Hansel, the Derby favorite in 1991 who finished 10th at Churchill Downs and then won the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
"The only difference is that Frankie Brothers [trainer of Hansel] brought his horse here in a bus [shipping in after a lengthy van ride from Chicago just a couple of days before the race], and I flew mine first-class," Lukas said.
Lukas said he has repeatedly watched the video of the Derby, "and you've got to like Sea Hero. But the Preakness is not going to be as easy for him. It's a different field, a different [racing] surface and the strategy is going to be different.
"But I don't see any new dominant faces on the scene, horses like Codex, who missed the Derby in 1980 and then won the Preakness, or horses like Danzig Connection or Conquistador Cielo that Woody Stephens would sit and wait with and then throw at you in the Belmont Stakes.
"If Sea Hero can dominate this group Saturday, then I think he has a good chance to win the Triple Crown. But his major hurdle is going to be here, not the Belmont."
Lukas said Union City galloped well over the Pimlico strip yesterday "and changed his leads so smooth [on the turn], you never even noticed it. It is just something P. Val [Pat Valenzuela, the horse's jockey] is going to have to be aware of this time. He'll have to try to grab him up and make him switch if he doesn't want to."
A horse changes the leg he leads his stride with to maintain balance around the turn and then changes back in the stretch to keep from tiring.
Lukas said he might not even work Union City before the race on Saturday.
"Right now, just like everybody else, I'm in kind of a holding pattern with my horse. After the Derby, you're tired. The horse is tired. The media blitz there has worn you out.
"But along about Thursday, the adrenalin starts flowing again. I'm just trying now to get my horse's fluid level up. It's just too short a time [two weeks] between the Derby and Preakness."
Lukas added he'll know in a day or so whether his horse has bounced back sufficiently to be a factor on Saturday.
"If you're looking for someone to upset Sea Hero," he added, "look for a horse who ran a solid race in the Derby, who might have finished fourth or fifth. Horses like the Personal Hopes."
PROSPECTIVE PREAKNESS FIELD
Horses expected for the 118th running of the Preakness on Saturday at Pimlico. Post time 5:32 p.m. TV: ESPN 3:30-4:30 p.m.; chs. 13, 7, 4:30-6 p.m.
Horse .. .. .. .. Jockey .. .. .. .. .. Trainer
Sea Hero .. .. .. Jerry Bailey .. .. .. Mack Miller
Prairie Bayou.. ..Mike Smith .. .. .. ..Tom Bohannan
Personal Hope .. Gary Stevens .. .. .. Mark Hennig
Koluctoo Jimmy .. Al Chris McCarron .. Bruce Levine
Union City .. .. Pat Valenzuela .. .. D. Wayne Lukas
Cherokee Run .. .. Pat Day .. .. .. .. Frank Alexander
Woods Of Windsor .. Rick Wilson .. .. Ben Perkins Jr.
Wild Gale .. .. .. Shane Sellers .. .. Mike Doyle
Rockamundo .. .. .. No rider .. .. .. Ben Glass
El Bakan .. .. .. ..Craig Perret .. .. Alfredo Callejas * *TC Too Wild .. .. .. .. Robbie Davis .. .. Nick Zito