BALTIMORE — With every replay D. Wayne Lukas watched of what transpired on the first Saturday in May, the more his decision to wheel back graded stakes winners Oxbow and Will Take Charge for Saturday's Preakness Stakes registered as a no-brainer.
Of the horses who tracked just off pacesetter Palace Malice through fast early fractions in the Kentucky Derby, the diminutive Oxbow was the only one with any fight remaining in the stretch as he gutted out a thoroughly respectable sixth-place run.
Had Will Take Charge not been forced to check sharply to avoid a tiring Verrazano in the lane of the 11/4-mile race, Lukas is convinced the 17-hand colt at worst would have been in the top three rather than crossing the wire eighth.
"I think they both had a chance to be a part of the equation if they got different scenarios," the Hall of Fame trainer said Wednesday.
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While Oxbow and Will Take Charge did nothing to dissuade Lukas from a pre-planned Baltimore trip, the inclusion of stablemate Titletown Five on the Preakness-bound van was less obvious, but just as staunchly defended.
Few horsemen have mastered the 13⁄16-mile Preakness the way Lukas has, winning Pimlico Race Course's classic five times. If Titletown Five ends up being Preakness win No. 6 for the 77-year-old icon, it will go down as one of his more remarkable training feats.
Owned by a partnership that includes NFL Hall of Famer Paul Hornung — as well as Lukas himself — Titletown Five is a handsome mover on the track but is still working on getting his fluid strides to overcome his rivals. Titletown Five broke his maiden fourth time out by 9 lengths at Churchill Downs last October but has lost three straight since, including a ninth-place finish in the Louisiana Derby and a fourth-place effort in the Derby Trial.
Though the dark bay colt has been on or near the lead in all of his seven career starts, Lukas has plans to "take something off his fastball" for Saturday. Julien Leparoux will be aboard the colt for the first time in an effort to leave Titletown Five with something more in the tank.
"His last two races they put him into the race too much," Lukas said. "I'd like to see him relax about 3-4 lengths off (the pace). I don't think he'll be on the lead and I really don't want him on the lead, either. He's not as one-dimensional as his form is going to show him to be.
"He's a more talented horse than you people realize. Given the right scenario and the right ride he's pretty darn talented."
A Shug by any other name
Programs and media guides may list him by his given name Claude R. McGaughey III, but if there was a time when the trainer of Kentucky Derby winner Orb answered to anything other than Shug, he can't recall.
When asked how his adopted moniker came about, however, the Hall of Famer revealed Wednesday that 62 years in, he's still not sure how his nickname originated.
"I have no idea. I'm a "the third" so they had to call me something, but I've never really had a definitive answer from anybody," McGaughey said. "But it wasn't (shortened from) 'Sugar.' I know that."