Lukas, who used to have all answers, can't find one in Union City mystery

BALTIMORE — BALTIMORE -- Union City was the talk of the Pimlico backstretch all week. And nobody, including the colt's trainer, was saying anything nice.

One day, the colt didn't even go to the track to train. That never happens. By Friday, trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who touted Union City so hard and so often in the Kentucky Derby that the colt was way overbet -- proving again that you can fool many of the people much of the time -- publicly admitted he didn't think much of Union City's chances in the Preakness.


Maybe, the clue was that 15th-place finish in the Derby. Maybe, it was no workouts since. Maybe, it was the trainer's pessimism.

When Union City broke both sesamoids and tore tendons and ligaments in his right front ankle at the half-mile pole of the Preakness, there was only one remaining question.


Why did Lukas, racing's ultimate contradiction, insist on running the horse? There were no answers from the man who used to have all the answers.

Slick and articulate and the leading money-winning trainer year after year, Wayne Lukas brought new ideas and a unique business sense to a stale sport. But there was always a dark side -- animals as commodities, disposable as used cars.

Thirteen years after he burst onto the national racing scene with Codex's win in the 1980 Preakness, Lukas' luck might have run out.

Union City couldn't be saved. He was humanely destroyed not long after being removed from the track.

If Union City were the first horse Lukas raced one too many times, it could be excused. But anybody who saw Tank's Prospect eased in the '85 Belmont Stakes, or remembers the final races of Lady's Secret, or the sorry treatment of Winning Colors (Lukas' only Derby winner) at the end of her career, knows better.

The wins used to cover up the sins. Now, there no longer are many wins, certainly not many big wins. Lukas hasn't won a Grade I stakes in 19 months. Almost all of his owners have gotten out of the game, died or sent their horses elsewhere.

Only William T. Young's Overbrook Farm is left among Lukas' big-money clients. And one wonders what he must be thinking after hearing all the rumors and watching Union City, a colt he owned one moment, a casualty the next.

"Unfortunately, there's a lot of sadness, but it's part of the game," Young said bravely.


But is it really part of the game? One wonders.

Even the Lukas apologists were having trouble with this one. And he snapped a bit when the inevitable questions began.

"Nobody works harder than I do," Lukas said while mixing in a few curse words.

"I thought Union City was a damn good racehorse," Lukas said later. "I'll go to my grave thinking he was a damn good horse. I never had a horse train as well as he did for the Derby."

Rumors of the financial collapse of his empire have been rampant for a couple of years. It hasn't happened. Not yet.

Reputations, however, die hard. So do horses.