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D. Wayne Lukas has made a career out of 'going where I don't belong'

Much of D. Wayne Lukas' career goes back to the 1980 Preakness Stakes.

Then 44, Lukas came to Pimlico Race Course as an outsider, known more for his success racing quarter-horses in California and coaching a little high school basketball on the side in his native Wisconsin.

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Then Codex won, beating out Genuine Risk, only the second filly to win the Kentucky Derby, by nearly five lengths. It started Lukas on a road that led to him becoming the most accomplished classic racehorse trainer in history.

Five Preakness wins later — the most recent two years ago with 15-1 longshot Oxbow — the now 79-year-old Lukas returns to Pimlico for the 140th Preakness Stake with another longshot, Mr. Z.

That he and Mr. Z were in Baltimore on Saturday has as much to do with Lukas' ability as a horse trader as a trainer.

After Mr. Z finished 13th in the Kentucky Derby, the man for whom the horse is named, Ahmed Zayat, had no intention of bringing the horse to Pimlico, where another of his horses, American Pharaoh, was going after the second leg of the Triple Crown.

That's when Lukas helped broker a deal between Zayat and Brad Kelley, the owner of Calumet Farm.

"They were way out here and I brought them in here and I made the deal," Lukas said Wednesday night, hours after Mr. Z was sold.

After doing a "little negotiating" Tuesday night around 9:30, Lukas thought the deal was dead by 7:30 a.m. Wednesday. Around two hours "and 27 calls back and forth" later, Lukas said, "we were dottin' the I's and crossin' the T's."

It even surprised Lukas, who tried to do the same thing after Winning Colors won her first two starts as a 3-year-old in 1988, including a 7 ½-length romp in the Santa Anita Derby.

The morning of the Derby draw at Churchill Downs, Lukas was turned down. Good thing: Winning Colors went on to win the Derby, becoming the third filly to do so.

"I thought it was a helluva idea," he said.

This time, the deal went through — barely before the deadline to enter the horse.

"It's kind of amazing actually," Lukas said. "It's very difficult to get two people of that magnitude to be able to agree on something that quickly and close it out. They're used to making huge deals and having everything in their favor so they both came on the same page quickly."

Though most believe Mr. Z has a better chance to run interference for 4-1 shot Firing Line by getting in the way of the two Bob Baffert-trained horses to his left, American Pharaoh and Dortmund, history suggests that Lukas could add to his legacy that also includes four Kentucky Derby and four Belmont Stakes winners.

"He's a very aggressive horse, he's trained well," Lukas said. "With social media, around 5 million people said we shouldn't run him. We didn't really have a 900 number, we didn't take a poll. We've been lucky here before. … He had a few quirks about him. I get paid to train horses and I kept tweaking it."

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Lukas doesn't think Kelley, whose attempt to resurrect Calumet Farm to its former status as one of the sport's top breeding and training operations was helped by Owbow's win at the Preakness, simply bought Mr. Z to win Saturday at Pimlico.

"I don't think he bought this horse to win the Preakness, I think he bought this horse because he thinks he's going to have a really nice horse throughout the fall," Lukas said.

Lukas is not bothered by the fact that Mr. Z has not won in the 12 races since breaking his maiden in his first race as a 2-year-old.

"They're not all perfect, otherwise a car salesman would be doing this," Lukas said.

The same goes for the jockeys riding those horses.

"You can overcoach them," Lukas said. "It's ike telling LeBron James you don't want him to shoot anything further than 30 feet and then the next thing you know he's drilling 'em from everywhere. I think you've got to leave it in their hands."

As for the likes of Baffert and the other trainers with horses in the Preakness, Lukas said, "I don't know what the other guys are going to do. You always plan it out and talk a strategy and then the gate opens up and all hell breaks loose."

That usually works to Lukas' advantage, particularly if he's not saddling up the favorite. It happened two years ago, when Oxbow went wire-to-wire with Gary Stevens aboard to help Lukas pass the legendary Jim Fitzsimmons with his 14th Triple Crown victory.

"Strange things happen here," Lukas said the Preakness. "It's very difficult to predict this race. It's a different kind of race. I'm in the business to run races. People say I'm not realistic, but I've made a living going where I don't belong. We won't hurt the race."

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