Jockey Stevens, trainer Lukas seek to recapture Derby glory

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Trainer D. Wayne Lukas and jockey Gary Stevens know what it is like hearing the roar of the crowd and inhaling the intoxicating scent from dozens of roses in the Kentucky Derby winner’s circle.

The Hall of Famers want to feel it all again.

On Saturday at Churchill Downs, they will make another run at winning America’s greatest horse race — and if experience counts, this duo might have an edge.

Lukas and Stevens are teaming with Oxbow, while the trainer considered the sport’s elder statesman also will saddle Will Take Charge. The colts will be Lukas’ 46th and 47th Derby starters, the most of any trainer. He has won it four times, but not since 1999.

At 77, Lukas would be the oldest trainer to win the race.

“I don’t feel any different than when I came in here at 50. There’s still the adrenaline rush. There’s still the enthusiasm,” he said. “The horse is the most important ingredient. You better have the horse and then some luck.”

Stevens, who was the leading rider at Longacres in Renton in 1983 and 1984, has ridden in the Kentucky Derby 18 times. He won on three of those mounts, two with Lukas — in 1988 on filly Winning Colors and in 1995 with Thunder Gulch.

Stevens, 50, is several months into a comeback after being retired for seven years.

“The karma is good between us,” Lukas said. “The experience factor for me is so big here. With 20-horse fields, having been there and won, it makes a huge difference for me. I’m going to be comfortable and not worry about it.”

Stevens considers Lukas to be a second father.

“There’s definitely a mutual respect,” Stevens said. “We’re both highly motivated. We haven’t lost our need for big moments.”

Stevens resumed riding in early January, the same week he got a call from Lukas advising him the trainer had a couple of promising 3-year-olds who could make the Derby.

“I was kind of thinking, ‘Yeah right, wouldn’t that be great,’ and here we are,” said Stevens, who juggles duties as a TV racing commentator with riding commitments.

He had quit in 2005, driven out by unrelenting knee pain that had him downing anti-inflammatories every day for the previous 15 years. Stevens battled his weight, too, during the final five years he was riding.

In retirement, he ballooned to 134 pounds — big for a jockey. He is down to 113 pounds, and is mentally relieved knowing he doesn’t have to sweat off extra pounds.

As for the Derby, Stevens said, “I don’t just want to go out there and ride around. I want to get my picture taken.”

Note

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said neither of his possible Derby runners, Governor Charlie and Code West, will start.

Governor Charlie had a layoff because of a foot bruise and soreness in his hind end and Code West was sixth in his most recent race, the Louisiana Derby. It will be the first time since 2008 Baffert won’t have a Kentucky Derby starter; he has sent out three winners of the race.

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