Unlikely Double

(By Avalyn Hunter)

The last time Gary Stevens sat on the winner of a classic race, Point Given had taken him to victory in the 2001 Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes (both gr. I). The last time Wayne Lukas had trained a colt of that caliber was in 2000, when Commendable won one of the more forgettable editions of the Belmont. And the last time a horse owned by Calumet won a Triple Crown race? Try 1968, when Forward Pass added a clear victory in the Preakness Stakes to a victory by disqualification in the Kentucky Derby.

Since then, Calumet has passed through an epic fall from grace and a changing of the guard at its helm; the historic farm is now owned by the Calumet Investment Group and is currently leased by businessman Brad Kelley. Gary Stevens retired from the saddle in November 2005 to become a well-known T.V. horse racing commentator as well as an actor, a jockey agent, and a stable owner. And Lukas? He still has the same fire in his heart and the same work ethic, but he hasn't had the same caliber of horses for years; his last horse of championship class was Folklore, the 2-year-old filly champion of 2005. But on May 18, the trio combined for back-to-back graded stakes wins, taking not only the Preakness with Oxbow but the Dixie Handicap (gr. IIT) immediately before it with Skyring. Anyone playing a parlay from Skyring to Oxbow would have been rewarded by $826.56 from an initial $2 bet, underscoring the improbability of the whole scenario.

Purists will argue that Calumet Farm is the same entity as the legendary operation of the mid-20th century in name only, with some truth. For all his unquestioned skills and talent, Gary Stevens is still an aging athlete with uncertain knees; while his sense of pace and his judgment are as keen as ever and his physical fitness would be the envy of many men decades younger, sooner or later wear and tear will end his comeback. And Oxbow still has a way to go to prove himself the equal of some of the champions Lukas trained in his younger days. But for one May afternoon, the years rolled backwards for all three of these racing legends. It may not have been quite the story people hoped for--a potential Triple Crown--but it's a good one nonetheless, and good stories are always a good thing for the sport.

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