He's not the prettiest horse on the grounds, or even in his own barn for that matter. No, Oxbow isn't the fastest horse here at Saratoga either. Nor is he the most versatile or the most hyped. What he is though, is accomplished and if the Tiznow colt can execute what trainer D. Wayne Lukas has planned then he will not only be one of the most decorated at the Spa but throughout North America.
"He's tough, I'll tell you that," Lukas said from his office just outside his barn at Saratoga's Oklahoma training track Thursday morning, his Australian Sheppard Boomer weaving in and out of his legs. "He's maybe a little bit of a throwback to the old type horse. He doesn't need a lot of pampering or management. He meets you at the door every day and wants to train."
Oxbow, who breezed last Saturday at Churchill Downs for the first time since finishing a gutsy second in the June 8 Belmont Stakes, met Lukas at the door Thursday and trained early on the Oklahoma.
He didn't do much, but then again he doesn't need to.
Lukas said Oxbow came out of the Triple Crown series-where he finished sixth in the Kentucky Derby, won the Preakness and finished second in the Belmont-in such good shape that he might have considered a race in between the classics and what he'll use as a tune-up for the Aug. 24 Travers Stakes.
"The last one I had like him was Thunder Gulch," Lukas said of the dual classic winner who also won the Travers during his championship campaign of 1995. "I actually ran him in the Swaps after the Belmont. I would have run Oxbow in the Swaps out in California, too, if they didn't cut the purse so badly and the grade. If that had been an old Grade 1 and $500,000, Oxbow would have been in there."
So the West Coast trek was averted thanks to the race being Grade 2 and worth only $147,000 at post time, Oxbow will prep for the Travers in Monmouth Park's Haskell Invitational Sunday, July 28.
The timing gives Lukas two more opportunities to breeze Oxbow on the Oklahoma, the first coming this weekend depending on the weather and either before or after the trainer goes downstate to run Optimizer in the Man o' War Stakes at Belmont. The first breeze back last Saturday was an easy five-eighths in 1:02. Right on schedule and right on time.
"I tried to give him a little bit of prosperity time off but he didn't handle it very well," Lukas said. "He got so damn tough on me we had to get going with him. We did breeze him when we scheduled to, but boy it was time. He'll work here either Saturday, Sunday or Monday depending on the weather."
As the 77-year-old Hall of Famer chatted away, talking about everything from the land at the back portion of the Oklahoma grounds to helping clients and friends cash a sweet superfecta bet on this year's Belmont, Boomer tried to find a good spot to crash on the floor.
Outside the members of Team Lukas unloaded tack boxes, fans and everything else the barn will need for the meet. Things were a bit scattered, but the smart money is that all will be in order, neat and tidy by day's end. After all, this won't be Lukas' first Saratoga meet.
He said he's still as excited as ever, even after more than three decades at the old Spa.
"It's exciting and fun to have a change in our daily routine," he said. "Every time you go to a new track it piques your interest a little more and gets you excited. We first came here in, I want to say, '81 or '82. Maybe '81 and we haven't missed a year since.
"Of course when we first came here our stable was a lot stronger and we selected horses that we felt were Saratoga quality. I remember one meet here if I'm not mistaken, and you can check the record books, I think we won 13 stakes. That was when the meet was shorter, too. We had great runs here. But we had those championship quality horses and this was the place to have them. Of course our clientele wanted to be here and we wanted to be here. It's been a really, really good experience for us top to bottom up here. Some better than others."
Watch Oxbow win the Preakness.
This is one in a series of articles previewing the Saratoga Race Course meeting, which opens Friday, July 19. Be sure to check back between now and then for more and pick up a copy of The Saratoga Special if you're in town or jump on TIHR to download digital editions of the daily publication.