Racing: 'Queen' Azeri is Lukas ace in the pack

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It took a visit to Eddie Deen's Ranch in downtown Dallas for Breeders' Cup XXI to really explode. It was another showtime occasion orchestrated by the most successful trainer in the history of these world championships, D Wayne Lukas.

The calendar, rather than the man's features and demeanour, show that Lukas has reached the age of 69. His fortunes may have slowed since the greatest of days, but he still knows how to work horses and, especially, how to work human beings.

Lukas addressed his constituency at the ranch through those impossibly white Steinway teeth and informed that his Azeri would run in the Classic. He invested a sense of occasion and grandiosity with this revelation as if he was announcing the first details of the Magna Carta. "This is Texas," Lukas said. "The Breeders' Cup is kind of a Texas Hold 'Em and we're going all in. We're going to go in the Classic."

But then Azeri is no regular runner. The 2002 Horse of the Year here has earned more money than any other female runner in North American history. Now she attempts to become the first mare to win the centrepiece of these sports. To do so she must spread her capabilities to 10 furlongs.

"We feel we've now got a new dimension," Lukas added. "She's as good right now as human hands can make her, and we're going to swing for the fences. We'll step out of the box and see if we can do something that has never been done before. We're going to play our queen."

Pat Day, the most successful jockey in the history of the series, has learned to trust in Darrell Wayne Lukas. "Mr Lukas is noted for doing what is not ordinary and being quite successful," he said of the trainer who won the 1988 Kentucky Derby with a filly, Winning Colors. "I think she has showed us all that she is capable of rating and waiting for the rider's signal to get into the race. I feel confident we'll be able to stalk the pace and get a good finish, then we'll found out what happens."

Lukas is the only trainer whose horses have topped $200m in earnings - that figure stood at more than $238m through September - yet in the land which worships at the foot of statistics he attracts a strangely ambivalent attitude.

Lukas invented the pan- American approach, was the first to ship his horses from coast to coast in partnership with some of the most wealthy owners in the sport ("D Wayne off the plane" was a motto appended to the trainer). Yet critics complained that Lukas bludgeoned rivals with his sheer spending power and was ruthlessly aggressive with his young horses, among whom only the hardiest survived the regime.

Above all though there are the figures on which to fall back. On Saturday, D Wayne Lukas seeks to improve on 17 wins at the series and over $18.6m in earnings. To do so, in the Juvenile at least, he will have to beat his very antithesis as a personality.

Aidan O'Brien spent his first morning on course here yesterday, quietly detailing the prospects of his five runners. Powerscourt is the bearer of the best apparent form for the Turf, but there are hopes the idiosyncratic track will bring the best out of the similarly peculiar Antonius Pius in the Mile.

"Jamie [Spencer, the jockey] will have to ride him for luck," O'Brien said. "If he gets there too early he could jump over the stands. This is a very tricky horse to ride. He's capable of doing anything. You have to drop him on the line."

It is a tough assignment at the end of what has been a tough debut season for the new Ballydoyle stable jockey. "Jamie's obviously a young lad but he has unlimited ability," O'Brien added. "He's been thrown in at the deep end and every race he rides he's a better jockey. He was always going to get better and better and I think he is. He was bound to make [mistakes], things were always going to happen and he was just unlucky that while there were some that got away in other years we've had others to take [the attention] away."

Britain's Ouija Board was out in the Texan gloom at 7.15am yesterday. Her prospects in the Filly & Mare Turf were enhanced when she was allotted the No 5 box at the draw ceremony.

Amateur jockey badly injured at Sedgefield

Tom Thompson, an amateur jockey having his first ride under National Hunt rules, was last night "poorly but stable" after sustaining head injuries in a fall at Sedgefield yesterday.

The rider was taken to North Tees Hospital in Stockton after the fall from his mount Just Tom in a hurdle race. Just Tom had been in third place when hitting the top of the second hurdle, falling heavily. Having been hurled to the ground, Thompson then appeared to be kicked by a following horse.

Thompson, from Lancashire, was knocked unconscious and was attended by paramedics for several minutes before being taken away in an ambulance.

A hospital spokeswoman said later: "He's in the critical care area and is poorly but stable."

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