Only three fillies have won the Kentucky Derby in the 123 years of its running. Wayne Lukas has trained a third of them. Only three fillies have won the Santa Anita Derby in its 59 runnings. Wayne Lukas has trained a third of them.
To be sure, it was the same filly and the same year--Winning Colors in 1988--but the percentages still stand. Thirty-six fillies have started in the Kentucky Derby. And 20 have started in the Santa Anita Derby.
The lesson is not lost. Lukas knows something about training a female horse that eludes his contemporaries. Maybe he's a good dancer. Maybe he's a good listener. But even if he showed up at the barn with a rose in his teeth, a guitar in hand and a song in his heart, he couldn't he get more out of the ladies.
Some trainers can handle faint-hearted, spit-the-bit-in-the-stretch quitters. Turn them into barroom brawlers. Other trainers specialize in turning in-and-out claiming horses into stakes winners.
But give Lukas a delicate damsel with ribbons in her hair and a well-turned ankle and the next thing you know, you've got the feminine version of Man O' War.
Of course, they've got a lot of tomboy in them. And they've got to have a little contempt for the men in their lives. Theirs is the only sport in which females compete with males on a relatively even status. They get a five-pound pull in the weight. But they run over the same distance of ground.
So, attention must be paid when a Santa Anita Derby comes up, as it does Saturday, and Wayne Lukas is in there with another female horse.
Sharp Cat will be facing the boys for the first time in her career, but she's coming off four consecutive stakes wins against her own sex. Since she beat them by a cumulative 28 1/2 lengths, she would seem to have little more to prove against the gals. Lukas has brought her along the same unhurried way he brought Winning Colors. And hopes he has the fourth filly to follow a Santa Anita Derby victory with one in Kentucky.
Wayne's way with the women began back in the '80s, when he had the gorgeous filly Landaluce.
Landaluce was a once-in-a-lifetime runner. She won the Hollywood Lassie stake in 1982 by a breathtaking 21 lengths, even though it was only six furlongs. She ran so far ahead that the jockey on the place horse, Ray Sibille, announced later that he thought he had won.
"Because I couldn't see no horses in front of me," he explained.
Landaluce was back in the barn before the rest of the field finished.
Unfortunately, she contracted a virus and died at the end of a five-race winning streak before she could test her 3-year-old season. She was on her way to her first race with the boys when she collapsed.
The girls who have won the Santa Anita Derby have hardly lucked out. Ciencia, in 1939, romped home by 5 1/2 rolling lengths, which is ninth on a list of biggest margins of victory in the race. Then, Winning Colors, in 1988, won by 7 1/2, the race's third-biggest margin.
Silver Spoon won handily in 1959. But the Spoon could manage only fifth in her Kentucky Derby. Ciencia never got to the Derby.
Santa Anita Derby winners have won the Kentucky Derby eight times. They've won the Preakness six times and the Belmont four times.
Some horses who ran down the track in the Santa Anita Derby straightened out in time for Triple Crown races. Gallahadion finished 13th at Santa Anita in 1940--then won the Kentucky Derby. Gato Del Sol, fourth here, won the Kentucky Derby in 1982. Ferdinand, third here, won there in 1986.
Besides the six Santa Anita winners, five other Santa Anita starters have won the Preakness. In addition to the three Santa Anita winners, one additional Santa Anita starter won the Belmont. Only one Santa Anita winner won the Triple Crown--Affirmed in 1978.
This is the hand Wayne Lukas and Sharp Cat are betting into. But if anyone has the hang of it, it's Lukas. Winner of seven of the last eight Triple Crown races, he would seem to have the formula down pat and be dealing from a hand full of aces.
Will Sharp Cat be another Winning Colors? Or another Althea, the filly Lukas had in 1984 who finished 19th? Or a Serena's Song, a Lukas filly who finished 16th in 1995. Lukas knows you can seven-out, even with the best.
But Sharp Cat is a gorgeous redhead with these big brown eyes, an upswept hair-do, a long stride and inborn rhythm. If she were human, she'd be a chorus girl. The filly cost the Saudi prince Ahmed bin Salman $900,000. Like many women, she's expensive.
No filly has won the Triple Crown. Only one filly has won the Belmont--and that was in 1867. Genuine Risk came closest to the Triple Crown, winning the Derby and finishing second in the other two.
So, it's not impossible. The administrators of our universities make much of gender equity in their sporting activities. Sharp Cat and Wayne Lukas can bring it about without any government help whatever.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
SANTA ANITA DERBY
* When: Saturday
* Post: 2:40
* Purse: $750,000
* Distance: 1 1/8 miles on dirt
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
How They Fared
How Wayne Lukas-trained horses have run in Kentucky Derby prep races this year:
Horse Race Track Finish Boston Harbor Santa Catalina Santa Anita 4th Alamocitos San Rafael Santa Anita 9th Esteemed Friend Battaglia Turfway 3rd Famously Free Battaglia Turfway 5th Trafalgar Southwest Oaklawn 4th Leestown Southwest Oaklawn 6th Country Rainbow Swale Gulfstream 2nd Prairie Junction Swale Gulfstream 6th Wrightwood Florida Derby Gulfstream 5th Open Forum Louisiana Derby Fair Grounds 5th Trafalgar Louisiana Derby Fair Grounds 8th Deeds Not Words Gotham Aqueduct 4th Cromwell Rushaway Turfway 3rd Twin Spires Jim Beam Turfway 5th Mercer Mill Jim Beam Turfway Eased Sharp Cat Santa Ysabel Santa Anita 1st Sharp Cat Las Virgenes Santa Anita 1st Sharp Cat Santa Anita Oaks Santa Anita 1st