LOUISVILLE, Ky. —
Pletcher can barely stand being quizzed. He’s as buttoned-down as Lukas is casual.
The 45-year-old son of a trainer, Pletcher comes to work in a perfectly pressed white shirt tucked into belted jeans, and his gray hair is cut short. Neatness is something he learned from Lukas’ spit-shined example during seven years as an apprentice.
Not surprising, Lukas and Pletcher hold down the top two spots among trainers for the most Derby starters. Lukas is extending his record with Nos. 46 and 47 this year; while Pletcher’s current five give him 36.
“Now,” Lukas said, showing some of the candor that comes with well-worn success, “35 of those I didn’t want to run.”
Pletcher might have had seven horses in the starting gate at Churchill Downs if not for health issues with Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Shanghai Bobby and Violence. “He knows what to do,” Lukas said. “It’s such a difficult race to win.”
Lukas’ legacy was cemented long ago. If he adds a fifth Derby on Saturday, he could become the oldest winning trainer in race history. He’s throwing two long shots into the 20-horse mix: Oxbow and Will Take Charge.
Of Pletcher’s five horses, undefeated Verrazano is the early 4-1 second choice. Revolutionary, Overanalyze, Palace Malice and Charming Kitten are listed at double-digit odds.
Lukas, a former Wisconsin high school basketball coach, clearly knows he’s closer to the end of an enviable run. “I’m only going to do this until I’m 95,” he said with a laugh.
Pletcher, meanwhile, still has to be coaxed out of the small office near his horses’ stalls that offers a clear sightline to Lukas’ perch. With a TV camera in his face, Pletcher is pleasant but bland, parting with innocuous nuggets about each of his horses.
Example: “He trained exceptionally well.”
He’s equally middle-of-the-road when pressed on who he would like to see win if it can’t be him: “I root for everybody.”
On a couple of points, though, Lukas and Pletcher are alike.
Regarding the competition, Lukas likes to quote Charlie Whittingham, the oldest Derby-winning trainer: “Never say anything bad about a horse until he’s been dead 10 years.”