Jeff Lukas was the exacting and tireless first lieutenant to his father legendary horse training father, D Wayne Lukas….who once worked eight years without a day off….with each workday starting at 4:30 a.m. and often ending after dark. D. Wayne Lukas had seized the horse racing business by the throat in the 1980’s….becoming the first trainer to open multiple divisions around the nation….whereby his horses could win major races in California, Kentucky and New York on the same day. Lukas worked with unmistakable (and sometimes off-putting) flair…..as he rode a saddle pony and wore leather chaps and a white Stetson in the morning….while showing up for races in custom $3,000 suits and aviator shades in the afternoon. At its peak, D. Wayne Lukas Racing Stables had more than 400 horses (200 of them in training for races), 380 employees, a private jet and a helicopter….as Lukas shared the chopper with his most successful client, Eugene V. Klein, the L.A. insurance and entertainment magnate who once owned the San Diego Chargers of the NFL.
The most important member of Lukas’s operation was his only son Jeff….who began working for his father when he was in elementary school and Wayne was a high school teacher and basketball coach in Wisconsin….who trained quarter horses out West on summer vacations. After cutting short a Division III college football career at Wisconsin-River Falls, Jeff joined his father full-time at Santa Anita in 1978….and by the early 1980’s was running the company’s East Coast division at Belmont Park and Saratoga in New York….as father and son talked at least three times a day. “I don’t know that you would say we had a normal father-son relationship, because we were both so intense in what we were trying to do,” says Wayne. “But we had a real good understanding that we cared about each other.” And while Wayne was the visionary genius risk-taker…..whereas behind the stable’s rise, Jeff was the taskmaster who made the operation hum.
“Jeff was the glue,” says Todd Pletcher, 46, a former Lukas assistant who worked primarily under Jeff from 1989 to ’95. “Wayne was the boss, but as far as the inner workings of the racing operation, Jeff was absolutely the backbone, no doubt about it.” Since 2004, Todd Pletcher has gone on to win five Eclipse Awards as the nation’s outstanding trainer….and he’s threatening Wayne Lukas’s career earnings record.
In 1986, Jeff Lukas was the premier trainer and part owner of Derby entrant Badger Land….a thoroughbred racehorse who had 14 career starts…..with 5 wins and total purse winnings of $520,000…. and the story of how Jeff Lukas prepared this horse for his Derby appearance is covered in this video herewith.