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Lukas applauds NYRA decision to cap Belmont attendance

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Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas calls decision to cap the attendance at the June 6 Belmont Stakes 'a great marketing score.'JASON SZENES/EPA

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas calls decision to cap the attendance at the June 6 Belmont Stakes ‘a great marketing score.’

BALTIMORE – The New York Racing Association has capped attendance at 90,000 for the June 6 Belmont Stakes and it’s a smart move according to trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

“That was a great marketing score,” said the 79-year-old Hall of Fame trainer. “I think that was a smart move. Because people think that there could be a Triple Crown and they’ll get shut out so the presale is going to be triple of what it normally is.”

According to NYRA officials, 95% of the 27,000 dining and hospitality seats have already been sold, but there is plenty of general admission still available.

“If this horse (American Pharoah) gets beat the tickets are gone,” said Lukas, who saddled Mr. Z to his record 41st Preakness starter. “I remember on Derby day once saying to Tom Meeker (the former President and CEO of Churchill Downs) damn it’s going to rain today and he said, ‘I don’t give a shit all the tickets are sold anyhow. I don’t care if they show up or not.’”

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Last year Steve Coburn, one of the co-owners of California Chrome, made headlines by calling horses that skip the Derby or Preakness to run in the Belmont Stakes “cowards”, including Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist, which he later apologized for. “That was because he fell into a very nice horse that he didn’t have experience with,” Lukas said. “That was uncalled for. All the good and all the hype, he undid it he wiped it out in two minutes.” Lukas won the 2000 Belmont Stakes with Commendable, who ran in the Derby, skipped the Preakness, before winning the Belmont. “I think you got to read what’s in front of you. Not every horse can do it. I would have no problem skipping the Preakness if I thought it (the Derby) knocked my horse out. Not a bit. I would never in the Triple Crown series predetermine that I was going to run Derby-Belmont. I would play it day by day, and see what I got to work with.” There used to be a monetary bonus in place to keep horses running in all three races and Lukas thinks it should return. “I think it would be good,” he said. “The Triple Crown would have to hold hands and do it collectively and that would be difficult because Churchill could care less. This place (Pimlico) might fall into line because of (owner Frank) Stronach, because he’s so positive for racing, but to get Churchill to put up some money for a Triple Crown they’ll say he’ll win run our race and we don’t care what the rest of them do.”

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After passing the Preakness Stakes, trainer Todd Pletcher could have several horses possible for the Belmont Stakes – Carpe Diem, Stanford, Materiality, Competitive Edge and Madefromlucky. “That’s strange,” Lukas said of Pletcher not even starting one horse in the Preakness. “He’ll ambush them (in the Belmont), when they roll into town. Here’s the problem, it’s not just one. It’s Custer and the Indians, he’s going to surround them. He might three or four.”

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Affirmed remains the last horse to sweep the Triple Crown back in 1978 and Lukas believes it harder than ever to win racing’s most elusive prize. “The thing is the prep races are so hard now,” Lukas said. “That’s the key. Back in the 50s, 60s, and 70s you didn’t have these tough prep races. You didn’t have to worry about points. You just entered the Derby and you ran against eight horses. Now, god damn, there’s no soft spot. Everybody wants to be in it (the Derby) and it’s tough to get in it. There’s horses probably more knocked out getting to the Derby than there are getting to this one.” Lukas believes the increased media coverage of the Derby has made everyone want to win the Derby. “Media coverage, television, hype,” he said. “I think the Derby was important, but just important to a small segment of the industry. Now it’s important everywhere.”

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