Jeff Lukas, son and former top assistant to Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, has died at the age of 58.
According to Daily Racing Form, which was the first to report his passing, Jeff Lukas died Wednesday in Oklahoma. Jeff Lukas’ son Brady, who is stationed overseas with the Air Force, was notified of his father’s death before word was released.
Jeff Lukas was the only child of his legendary father and was poised to follow in his grand footsteps before suffering traumatic head injuries when he was run over by future classic winner Tabasco Cat while trying to stop the then 2-year-old horse after he got loose in the barn area of Santa Anita Park in December 1993. That accident fractured Lukas’ skull and left him with severe brain injuries that nearly cost him his life and ultimately cut short a career that was unquestionably on the rise.
Mirroring his father’s notorious work ethic, Jeff Lukas was the right-hand man as the D. Wayne Lukas stable rose to its peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s, dominating racing from coast to coast. Among the top horses he helped train were 1986 Horse of the Year Lady’s Secret and 1988 Kentucky Derby winner and champion, Winning Colors.
“Jeff was the sharpest and most dedicated horseman I’ve ever met,” said seven-time Eclipse Award winning trainer Todd Pletcher, who came up as an assistant to D. Wayne Lukas and worked under Jeff Lukas. “His impact on my life and my career, as well as many others in the Lukas organization is immeasurable. We will miss him greatly.”
In an interview with Sports Illustrated in 2013, D. Wayne Lukas — now 80 — reflected on what might have been for his son were it not for the events that day on the Santa Anita backside.
“I miss ... the comfort zone of having somebody who knew that every damn thing was covered,” Wayne Lukas told SI’s Tim Layden. “He was so good with my clientele. They were all so comfortable with Jeff. There was no telling where we might have gone, if he hadn’t gotten hurt. There’s no telling. I just know Jeff was irreplaceable.”
Unable to return to life within racing, Jeff Lukas lived out his days at his home in Atoka, Okla., and worked for a bank. In addition to his son Brady, Jeff Lukas is survived by his daughter, Kelly.
“I can't express how much I respected Jeff Lukas as a horseman, the most thorough horse trainer I have ever known,” trainer Mark Hennig, another former Lukas assistant, posted on his Twitter account Thursday.
Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, who guided Winning Colors to her Kentucky Derby triumph, said, “It’s just a sad day. It was a sad day when Jeff suffered that injury, and it feels the same way this morning. My heart goes out to Wayne and the whole family. I know he’s in a good place now. God rest his soul.”