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Lukas-Day Click At Belmont Stakes

June 10, 2000

NEW YORK (AP) _ Trainer D. Wayne Lukas and jockey Pat Day hooked up again to win a Triple Crown race on Saturday.

This time, the 3-year-old colt Commendable gave the pair of Hall of Famers their second Belmont Stakes triumph together.

``I have to commend Mr. Lukas on his ability to bring him up to the race,″ said Day, who won his other Belmont in 1994 aboard Lukas’ Tabasco Cat. ``And to have the courage to put him in and take a shot.″

Lukas, who nearly won the Triple Crown with Charismatic last year before the colt injured a leg in the stretch and finished third in the Belmont, has now won 13 Triple Crown races _ four Kentucky Derbys, five Preakness’ and four Belmonts.

Day has five wins in Triple Crown races, three for Lukas _ twice in the Preakness with Tabasco Cat in ’94 and Timber Country in ‘95, and now with Commendable. Day also won the Derby in ‘92 aboard Lil E. Tee and the ’89 Belmont on Easy Goer.

Without Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus and Preakness winner Red Bullet in the race, Lukas figured Commendable had a pretty good shot in the 11-horse Belmont field. On a steamy day at Belmont Park, with temperatures reaching 95 degrees, Commendable was sent off at 18-1, while Aptitude was the 9-5 favorite among the crowd of 67,810.

Both horses came into the race with only one win _ each having won a maiden race. Aptitude was second in the Derby, and second in the Belmont. Commendable was 17th in the Derby. Both skipped the Preakness.

Also in on the win were owners Bob and Beverly Lewis, who nearly won Triple Crowns with Silver Charm in ’97 and Charismatic last year. This time, the Lewis’ finally won a Belmont.

``We won two Kentucky Derbys, two Preakness’ and the elusive Belmont is finally ours,″ Lewis said.

Lukas said he was ``almost distraught″ that Commendable didn’t run better in the Derby, but after assessing the Belmont field, he decided the son of Gone West could give the others a run for the blanket of carnations that are draped over the Belmont winner.

He also knew he needed the right rider.

``I really wanted Pat Day. That was paramount in making our decision,″ Lukas said. ``I’m not saying we wouldn’t have run without him, but I really wanted Pat.″

Day was aboard the Lukas-trained High Yield in the Derby and Preakness. But after finishing 15th in the Derby and seventh in the Preakness, Lukas pulled the colt out of the Belmont and went back to Commendable, last ridden by Day in the Lexington Stakes on Aprill 22.

As expected, Hugh Hefner went to the lead and Commendable, who was 0-for-6 after breaking his maiden last August, stayed with him on the outside. It was the plan from the start.

``It was a wonderful trip,″ Day said. ``When I talked to Mr. Lukas, he said the important thing was to have an energy-saving ride. When we got to the quarter-pole, I knew we had a pretty good cushion, but I didn’t know what the last quarter of a mile had in store for us.″

It had Aptitude coming on strong, but Commendable held on to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

``He kept rolling, and when I asked him, he kept right on going,″ Day said.

With so much being made of who wasn’t in the race, perhaps racing fans should have paid more attention to Lukas.

``When you least suspect it,″ Bob Lewis said, ``he nails you.″

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