LOUISVILLE, Kentucky — Trainer D. Wayne Lukas has a more relaxed attitude about the Kentucky Derby at this late stage of his Hall of Fame career.
Lukas has won the Derby four times, among a record 14 Triple Crown victories. Now 79, Lukas takes another Derby swing Saturday with long-shot Mr. Z.
The best that can be said for Mr. Z is that Lukas is in his corner. The colt is 1 for 12, finishing a distant third behind American Pharoah — the likely Derby favorite — in the Arkansas Derby.
"The reality of the deal is that he has to improve a lot," Lukas said. "I think he's a good, solid horse in a year when there are exceptional horses. I think he belongs, but I don't have any grandiose ideas that he's going to waltz around there. It is the Kentucky Derby, it is a $2 million purse, so we'll try and get a piece of it."
With the pressure off, Lukas is able to savor the scene.
"I enjoy it," he said. "I enjoy the camaraderie but I have a whole different perspective than I did probably 25 years ago. I can stand back and watch this thing unfold and watch the young guys do things I wouldn't, but I probably did when I was 25-years-old."
While his last Derby win was in 1999 with Charismatic, Lukas still believes there is one more with his name on it.
"The passion is still there as much as it's ever been," he said. "I'd really like at this point in my career to get a couple of more. The problem is, I used to have more numbers."
However, to be in the Derby at this stage brings its own rewards.
"With age and experience, you inherit a certain amount of responsibility to maybe carry the game a little further," he said.
O CANADA: Many U.S. racing fans assume Mark Casse is Canadian because of his long string of successful seasons at Woodbine outside Toronto.
Casse is actually from Indiana, with deep racing roots in Kentucky.
That would make a Derby victory with the Canadian-bred Danzig Moon a special homecoming event.
The 54-year-old trainer has been hooked on the Derby since 1973 when he arrived at Churchill Downs in horse van with his father Norman in time to see Secretariat's record-shattering victory.
His son, Norman, now an assistant in the stable, was born in Louisville.
"This is home," Casse said.
Danzig Moon will be his third Derby starter after Seaside Retreat finished 10th in 2006 and Prospective was 18th in 2012.
"This horse has more talent than those two horses," Casse said.
The colt is improving at the right time. He got his first win in February and lost to Carpe Diem, expected to be among the Derby favorites, in his next two races.
He finished 12 1/2 lengths behind the winner in the Tampa Bay Derby but was far more competitive in their next meeting, cutting the deficit to three lengths in the Blue Grass Stakes.
"He's going to have to step it up though because this is one tough Derby," Casse said.
BIG OAKS FIELD: The $1 million Kentucky Oaks, the companion event for 3-year-old fillies Friday, drew an overflow field of 15.
The Oaks is limited to 14, the number of stalls in the main starting gate.
An auxiliary gate is added for the Derby, swelling that field size to 20.
Peace and War was excluded as the also-eligible. She could run if a scratch opens up a spot.
Stellar Wind is the slight 7-2 favorite from post No. 12 under Victor Espinoza. She has won three races in row, including a 5 1/4-length victory in the Santa Anita Oaks for trainer John Sadler.
Condo Commando and I'm a Chatterbox are co-second choices at 4-1.
AP freelance writer Josh Abner contributed to this report.
All content copyright ©2015 Daily Journal, a division of Home News Enterprises unless otherwise noted.