After sale, Mr. Z might race in Preakness after all

Exercise rider Edvin Vargas gallops Mr. Z at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.
Exercise rider Edvin Vargas gallops Mr. Z at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. (Garry Jones / Associated Press)

One of the greatest trainers in Preakness history, six-time winner D. Wayne Lukas, created a bit of intrigue Wednesday by unexpectedly entering Mr. Z in Saturday's race.

Mr. Z's owner, Ahmed Zayat, had said he did not want to bring Mr. Z back on two weeks' rest after a 13th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. But Lukas was not to be denied.


He helped facilitate a mid-week sale of the horse from Zayat to Kentucky's Calumet Farm. The sides were still completing paperwork on Wednesday afternoon, but Lukas said he expected to run Saturday under the Calumet banner.

Lukas is known for entering big races with horses dismissed by the experts, and he's won more than his share under such circumstances. He noted at least two of his Preakness winners, Oxbow in 2013 and Timber Country in 1995, were widely dismissed.

"That's why we run them," Lukas said. "If you just mailed it in, there wouldn't be any excitement."

He said Derby winner American Pharoah — also owned by Zayat — is the best horse in the field but added that bad luck has felled plenty of favorites over the years.

The sale talks began with what Lukas described as a casual conversation between him and Calumet owner Brad Kelley. He told Kelley, for whom he frequently trains, that he would run Mr. Z in the Preakness if he owned him. But he said Zayat would not enter the horse.

From there, Lukas served as a middle man between Zayat and Kelley.

The 80-year-old trainer said Mr. Z looked terrific in his first work on the track at Pimlico: "I galloped him over it this morning, and I thought he handled it really well."

If the sale is completed and Mr. Z remains in the field, the Preakness would feature eight horses.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun