BOZICH | American Pharoah the Kentucky Derby horse who got away from D. Wayne Lukas
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – John Calipari thought Andrew Wiggins was on his way to Lexington two summers ago. Fans still fuss about Antonio Blakeney at the University of Louisville. Ditto for Indiana and Trey Lyles.
Everybody has a story about the one who got away.
The one who got away from trainer D. Wayne Lukas is the Kentucky Derby horse everybody is talking about at Churchill Downs this week:
The likely Derby favorite.
The winner of his last four races by more than 22 lengths.
The 2015 nominee for the Next Great Horse.
Nobody gushes about American Pharoah more than Lukas gushes about American Pharoah – and Lukas has been gushing for the last 14 months.
In March 2014, Ahmed and Justin Zayat, the father and son that run Zayat Stables, delivered word to the seven trainers who handle their horses about a special workout planned at their Florida farm.
About 30 two-year-olds colts were scheduled to breeze a quarter mile. For most of the horses, it was the first scheduled workout of their careers. All the Zayat trainers were invited. Those who could not attend were sent a video of the training.
The trainers had several days to study the workouts and pick the four colts they wanted in their barns.
"I watched the video right there," said Lukas, pointing to a laptop computer tucked against a wall inside his office at Barn 44 on the Churchill backstretch.
Lukas smiled and shook his head.
"I watched the videos twice," Lukas said. "I called Justin immediately. I loved American Pharoah's movement. When you get to my age, you realize it's about the movement more than the confirmation."
"Wayne called me less than two hours after I sent him the video," Justin Zayat said. This was Lukas' list:
No. 1 – American Pharoah.
No. 2. – Mr. Z.
No. 3 – El Kabeir.
No. 4? Lukas does not remember.
"Wayne is amazing," Justin Zayat said. "That's why he's a Hall of Famer and arguably one of the greatest trainers of all time. He was spot on. He was watching just the action and nailed it."
One problem: Lukas was not the only one who recognized the precocious power of American Pharoah. Other trainers had the colt on their lists, too.
The Zayats made their assignments. Mr. Z went to Lukas. El Kabeir was shipped to John Terranova II.
American Pharoah eased into Bob Baffert's barn in California.
Said Lukas, "The minute they sent me Mr. Z, I called Justin and said, 'Where's that horse they call American Pharoah?'
"Justin said, 'Baffert got him.'
"I said, 'He got a good one.'"
There was a reason that American Pharoah made his way into Baffert's barn.
"Nothing against Wayne," Justin Zayat said. "He's the greatest of all time. But we've been with Bob for 10 years. We've had success.
"Also Bob trained Pioneer of the Nile (the sire of American Pharoah) for us. Plus he was showing so much talent and we knew the (2014) Breeders' Cup was in California so Bob could keep him out there.
"When we divide our horses, we try to give every single trainer one so we can say, 'This could be a Derby horse for you.' We try to give every trainer a fair chance."
Lukas, for the record, believes he has a fair chance on Saturday with Mr. Z, even though the colt finished third in the Arkansas Derby, nearly 9 lengths behind American Pharoah. Mr. Z has won only one of his 12 career starts, with four seconds and four thirds.
A son of Malibu Moon, Mr. Z will be the 48th horse that Lukas has saddled in the Derby. He's won the race four times, the signature moments in his record collection of 14 Triple Crown victories.
Mr. Z could be 40-to-1 on Saturday. Lukas doesn't care. Thunder Gulch was nearly 25-to-1 when the colt gave Lukas his second Derby win 20 years ago. The trainer topped that performance in 1999 when he won with Charismatic, at 31-1.
Although Lukas will turn 80 in September, he believes he can add a 15th Triple Crown victory to his resume.
"I think I can get one more," Lukas said. "Or maybe two."
If the Zayats had shipped American Pharoah to Lukas' barn, maybe it would have happened this spring.
Copyright 2015 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.