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Lukas setting pace for '96 Derby


ELMONT, N.Y. -- Thunder Gulch had barely cooled out from his victory in the Belmont Stakes when his trainer, D. Wayne Lukas, began thinking about the first Saturday in May -- of 1996.

"We've got a beautiful set of young horses," said Lukas, already setting his sights on winning his sixth consecutive Triple Crown race in next year's 122nd Kentucky Derby.

Lukas' current crop of 2-year-olds already includes the stakes-winning filly, Miraloma, a potential heiress apparent to Serena's Song.

"Now we're about to turn loose some impressive colts," he said. Among the seven or eight most promising ones, either stabled on the West Coast or at Churchill Downs, are Dr. Caton, a son of Seattle Slew out of an Affirmed mare, and Prince of Thieves, a three-quarter brother to Timber Country.

"I'd be very surprised if we don't show up here this fall in the Breeders' Cup," Lukas added. He was talking about the Juvenile stakes, but his stable also is loaded with other possibilities, such as running all three of his Triple Crown race winners in the $3 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 28 at Belmont Park.

The 1994 Preakness and Belmont winner, Tabasco Cat, could reappear in several weeks at Saratoga after sitting out the first half of 1995 and is being pointed to the Classic. Then Derby-Belmont winner Thunder Gulch, who goes to the West Coast, and the Preakness-winning Timber Country, who stays in the East, could meet again in the Classic.

Serena's Song will go in the Breeder's Cup Distaff.

Unlike the Triple Crown, though, the Breeders' Cup is not going to be Lukas' one-man show. A couple of horses, such as leading Horse of the Year candidate, Cigar, and Concern, are quite capable of taking on Lukas' "Triple Threat" in the Classic.

Timber Country is making progress since a virus struck and kept him out of the Belmont. Lukas is considering the Dwyer Stakes on July 2 as the colt's next start.

Nick Zito, who finished second in the Belmont with Star Standard, said he'll wait until Saratoga to re-emerge with his horse.

"We'll probably wait until the Jim Dandy Stakes to run him again," Zito said.

Zito has taken the place of Woody Stephens as Lukas' main East Coast rival, although up to now it's been a pretty lopsided battle.

Lukas beat Zito-trained Go For Gin in both the Preakness and Belmont last year; defeated Zito's Suave Prospect in the Florida Derby with Thunder Gulch; and then turned back Star Standard on Saturday.

However, Zito did win the Kentucky Derby with Go For Gin last year and his work with Star Standard has been exceptional. Just a few months ago, Star Standard was beaten by 18 1/2 lengths by Thunder Gulch in the Florida Derby. In the Belmont that margin had narrowed to two lengths.

Zito will be in Maryland this month to judge the Maryland Horse Breeders' Association Yearling Show at the state fairgrounds in Timonium.

The most prominent Belmont also-rans are headed in various directions.

Citadeed, who finished third, will be rested until Saratoga. Trainer Rick Violette still needs permission from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to keep England-based horse in the states.

"We want him to get back on his feet before he runs again," Violette said. "He's a little tired."

Knockadoon, who was fourth, returned to Churchill Downs.

"I'm looking at the Mid-American Triple races -- the turf races at Arlington Park -- for his next starts," said trainer Tony Reinstedler.

Irish colt Off'N'Away failed to duplicate the success of his brother, Go And Go, who won the 1990 Belmont, and finished sixth. He was set to fly back to Ireland last night.

Peter Russell, assistant to the horse's trainer, Dermot Weld, echoed the sentiments of a lot of other losing trainers.

"It was a funny race," Russell said about the plodding early fractions. "The slow pace was very unusual. I felt that it threw off my horse's race a great deal."

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