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Preakness 2024: Seize the Grey goes wire-to-wire, outruns Mystik Dan in 149th running

BALTIMORE — He’ll never stop coming as long as he has a horse with any chance.

It had been 11 years since 88-year-old trainer D. Wayne Lukas won the Preakness Stakes with Oxbow. Many assumed the man who had dominated thoroughbred racing in the 1990s would never return to the winner’s circle in a Triple Crown race. But Lukas’ optimism blooms anew each spring. He doesn’t feel right if he’s not part of the big races.

Lukas was absent in 2023 but brought two contenders, Seize the Grey and 17th-place Kentucky Derby finisher Just Steel, to Pimlico Race Course this year in hopes of winning Preakness No. 7. Neither was among the favorites, but Lukas felt that under the right scenario, he could compete with Derby champion Mystik Dan and the rest of a solid eight-horse field.

His relentlessness paid off Saturday when Seize the Grey won the 149th running of the Preakness, zipping straight to the lead and holding it all the way, longer than anyone but his trainer thought he could.

“It’s like the first one; it really is,” Lukas said, making his way down the muddy track with help from a cane, his lone obvious concession to age. “It never gets old at this level.”

It was a popular victory, even among competing trainers such as Bob Baffert and Kenny McPeek, who’ve spent decades trading wins and good-natured barbs with Lukas. Both congratulated him in the moments after the race, McPeek despite the fact his Derby champion had just finished runner-up after a gallant effort.

“He’s a guy I’ve always idolized,” McPeek said. “If I’m going to get beat, I’m fine getting beat by him.”

“I’m in awe of what he pulled off,” said Baffert, still one Preakness victory ahead of Lukas with eight. “I cannot picture myself training at 88. … He still has it. He’s still a great trainer.”

Lukas joked that his peers could only have one reason for showering him with hugs and niceties: “I think they’re trying to get rid of me. They probably want me to retire.”

Not likely.

“This is what gets me up in the morning,” Lukas said, already bragging on the class of 2-year-olds he’ll point toward the Triple Crown next year.

It was a populist win in other ways.

Jaime Torres, 25, was riding in his first Triple Crown race, five years after he watched a race on television in his native Puerto Rico and thought it might be fun to become a jockey. His family surprised him by turning up in Baltimore the day before the Preakness.

“I have no words,” Torres said as he processed what had just happened.

Seize the Grey also gave his 2,570 owners, each of whom had paid $127 to purchase a piece of him through the company MyRacehorse, the thrill of a lifetime.

“Can you imagine how many people are going to relish this?” Lukas quipped.

But it was the trainer known as “The Coach” who inevitably occupied center stage. With his signature cowboy hat and the pony he still rides in the mornings, Lukas is a grand character who set the template for modern thoroughbred training, schooling such top trainers as Todd Pletcher, Kiaran McLaughlin, Mark Hennig and George Weaver.

He won his first Preakness 44 years ago with Codex and has saddled 46 horses for the race over the years.

Lukas had to overcome multiple obstacles to return to the Preakness winner’s circle: Derby champion Mystik Dan, a muddy track, well-rested challengers in Chad Brown-trained Tuscan Gold and Baffert-trained Imagination.

Lukas’ horse surmounted them all.

Competitors weren’t surprised that he went to the lead; they were just surprised he stayed there given that his previous best victory was in the Pat Day Mile on the Derby undercard.

“I thought we’d run him down,” McPeek said.

Brian Hernandez Jr. had ridden Mystik Dan so astutely in the Derby and thought he was in position to seize another victory.

“When I got out and Baffert’s horse [Imagination] died off and I got outside of him, I’m like, ‘OK, here we go. I’m just gonna cruise to him and we’ll be able to run him down,' ” Hernandez said. “But Lukas’ horse sprinted on again when we ran him down. Our horse was running. We just couldn’t run him down today.”

Lukas said that once he saw Seize the Grey cruising over the Pimlico mud, he wasn’t worried.

“I knew they were going to run at us, but I thought he had a great chance to dictate the race,” he said. “I thought his action down the backside was beautiful. I knew he was handling the track.”

Seize the Grey’s 2 1/4-length victory in 1:56.82 paid $21.60 on a $2 bet to win, $8.40 on a $2 bet to place and $4.40 on a $2 bet to show. Mystik Dan, who went off as a 5-2 favorite, paid $4.20 and $2.80. Third-place Catching Freedom paid $3.20.

Seize the Grey’s victory eliminated the possibility of a Triple Crown run for a sixth straight year. Justify in 2018 was the last horse to win both the Derby and the Preakness. Seventeen horses have won the 17 Triple Crown races since Justify completed his quest.

Weather became a character as it sometimes does on Preakness Saturdays. Who could forget American Pharoah gliding over the bog left by a violent thunderstorm in 2015? A muddy scenario was thought to favor Mystik Dan, who’d run one of the best races of his life over Arkansas slop in the Feb. 3 Southwest Stakes.

In truth, bad weather was a variable none of the Preakness trainers invited. “You don’t know until they come out of the gate,” Baffert said when asked how it might alter the $2 million race.

This wet Preakness was the last at Pimlico as we know it, at least if the state’s $400 million plan to rebuild the track proceeds on schedule. Wrecking balls are expected to swing either late this year or early next, with next year’s 150th running of the Preakness going off against the backdrop of an active demolition site. The race is scheduled to move to Laurel Park before returning to a spiffy new Pimlico in 2027.

Lukas acknowledged that Pimlico needs a facelift but said he hopes the essential nature of the Preakness, the low-key collegiality between trainers all housed in the same stakes barn, won’t change.

“This has been a special place, not only for me but for a lot of trainers,” he said.

Did he ever think he’d be back in the winner’s circle as Oxbow’s 2013 victory faded further into the past? Lukas said it was simply a matter of losing several of his key owners and needing time to find others who would fund his hunts for gifted yearlings. Now that he has that backing, he has no plans to stop winning.

“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be here,” he said.

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Baltimore Sun Media reporter Sam Cohn contributed to this article.