(Hall of Fame Trainer D. Wayne Lukas / Photos by Holly M. Smith)
From the HBPA:
D. Wayne Lukas — the most transformative horse trainer in the modern era — will be the keynote speaker at the National HBPA’s annual convention in March in Hot Springs, Ark.
“When we seek out our keynote speaker, we look for inspiration and passion,” said Eric Hamelback, chief executive officer of the National Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association. “Not only do we get that in spades with D. Wayne Lukas, but his overall legacy is unmatched in horse racing.
“Yet it’s not only that Wayne has impacted so many aspects of racing with his well-known accomplishments and vision. He also has been an extraordinary ambassador for our industry in so many unpublicized and behind-the-scenes ways. There’s no telling how many little kids will become diehard racing enthusiasts because D. Wayne invited them into the winner’s circle after one of his victories.”
Lukas will address the convention on March 2, the first full day of the HBPA convention at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort in Hot Springs, Ark. Details on registration and agenda will be available soon at nationalhbpa.com. The convention, staged in Oaklawn’s new hotel overlooking the track’s first turn, kicks off March 1 with a cocktail reception at the track, with program sessions March 2, 3 and the morning of March 4, followed by an afternoon at the races. The HBPA’s full board convenes March 5 to wrap up the event.
“This is a step forward for me to be involved in a horsemen’s association as strong as the HBPA,” said Lukas, long known as horse racing’s No. 1 motivational speaker. “I’m looking forward to it. I’ll try to stimulate them and give the attendees a good feeling as to where we’re going and what’s about to happen. All of my speeches try to influence people as to what their capabilities are and how to enjoy them.
“I’m 86. Very few men or women in that room will be 86. So I’ve been where they haven’t: I’ve been 45, 50, 60, 70 and they haven’t. I want to bring that experience — good and bad — about our industry to the table.”
In a Thoroughbred career that began in 1974 when he was a leading Quarter Horse trainer, Lukas set record after record. That includes being the first trainer to earn $100 million and then $200 million in purses, possessing the most Breeders’ Cup victories (20), the most Triple Crown race wins (14, before being passed by Bob Baffert) and a record 26 individual horses to be crowned an Eclipse Award champion, including three that were voted Horse of the Year.
Lukas has won both the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes four times and the Preakness six times, most recently with Oxbow in 2013 at age 77. He is the only trainer to sweep the Triple Crown races in one year with two different horses and at one stage won a record six consecutive Triple Crown races (1994 Preakness through the 1996 Derby). Lukas also is the only trainer enshrined in both the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame (1999) for Thoroughbreds and the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame (2007).
The basketball coach turned horse trainer transformed American racing at the top end, meshing a more corporate-focused approach to a tireless work ethic.
His divisions across the country shared a certain look and feel. The pristine barn, surrounded by immaculate landscaping, with polished tack boxes and shedrow raked in a herringbone pattern became part of a marketing strategy and attention to detail designed to appeal to affluent owners. Lukas made white bridles famous and sparked the handicapping maxim “Wayne off the plane” for flying horses around the country for big stakes, seemingly going straight from touch down to winner’s circle.
Aspiring to get as many of his clients to the big races as possible, Lukas never hesitated to run stablemates against each other, saying they had to beat the best to be the best. That included when his 2-year-old champion Timber Country beat 1995 Kentucky Derby winner Thunder Gulch in the Preakness, perhaps costing himself a Triple Crown sweep as Thunder Gulch went on to win the Belmont Stakes.
“We’ll never see another trainer like Wayne — certainly not one who at age 86 not only competes at a high level but is still accompanying every set to the track on his pony,”
Hamelback said. “There are Hall of Famers, there are icons, and there is D. Wayne Lukas.”
The HBPA convention also will include legal topics and discussions centering on the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, scheduled to go into effect July 1 amid serious questions and court challenges; crisis-management recommendations; creating positive interactions with local, state and federal representatives; utilizing the guest-worker visa programs; fixed odds’ place in American racing, and the annual Kent Stirling Memorial Medication Panel addressing the need for screening limits.
Also: Louis Cella, president of Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort, will address the assembly on March 4; the HBPA’s Claiming Horse of the Year for 2021 will be honored; and Friday the 4th, Oaklawn and the Arkansas HBPA will host an afternoon at the races for conference participants.
“The HBPA convention is designed to provide or work toward solutions for complex issues facing the industry, while also sharing information and programs that make a difference,” Hamelback said. “We can’t thank Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort management and staff and the Arkansas HBPA enough for all their assistance in staging what we are proud to call one of the industry’s most informative gatherings.”