6 Traits D. Wayne Lukas Looks for in His Next Champion

6 Traits D. Wayne Lukas Looks for in His Next Champion

A legend in both Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred racing, D. Wayne Lukas shares the six traits he looks for when selecting horses.

racing horses (Credit: AQHA)

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By Becky Newell, AQHA editor-in-chief

With roots deeply embedded in Quarter Horse racing, trainer and American Quarter Horse Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas crossed into Thoroughbred racing in the late 1970s.

Wayne saddled Quarter Horse stars Dash For Cash, Flight 109, Little Blue Sheep and She’s Precious. In 1979, Wayne saddled his last Quarter Horse winner and went on to train Thoroughbreds. Success followed Wayne into the Thoroughbred circles, and the trainer has saddled four Kentucky Derby winners, six Preakness winners and four Belmont Stakes winners. Wayne was also the first trainer to condition the earners of $100 million. He has conditioned more than 20 champion Thoroughbreds, including horses of the year Lady’s Secret, Criminal Type and Charismatic.

“It’s a process of learning,” Wayne says of horse selection. “I don’t think it makes any difference if it’s a Quarter Horse, Standardbred, Saddlebred, a Morgan or a Thoroughbred.

“There are six things that I zero in on that I think are important.”

  1. No. 1, I think that he cannot be back in his knees. We have had no luck buying horses that are cap-kneed or a little back in their knees. Everything that I’ve ever done, Quarter Horse or Thoroughbred, that is one thing that showed up and bit us.
  2. Second, I don’t buy horses that don’t have a real kind eye and good head. I think that the head on a horse and the kindness of his eyes dictates pretty much what he’s going to do for you and how much you can lean on him to do it.
  3. The next thing is we buy only horses that have loin strength. The loin of the horse is the back. All great athletes – football, basketball, gymnasts, soccer players – have a strong back. A horse that doesn’t have the loin strength, I’m talking about that muscle right in front of the hip, I don’t think he can do what you or I would like to do.
  4. Next, he has to have muscle tone. By that, I mean you see some horses that have kind of soft muscle. I like the horse that has a little bit of a ripple. I like the Bo Jackson type. I want the one that looks like he has the tone to his muscle and that he will be able to take the pressure that I’m going to put on him.
  5. Every horse has to have a good, long, clean neck. The neck in a horse, for me, is the balance point. I’ve had no luck with short-necked horses, horses where the neck ties in low. None of those have done well for me. All of our 49 champions had great necks. My good friend Angel Cordero, hall of fame rider, was one day working some horses and he said, ‘Boss, I have to go over and work a couple of 2-year olds for a guy.’ I said, ‘Angel, I want you to do me a favor. Take your whip. Put it right in the front of the saddle through his neck. If that whip goes through his ears and extends beyond his ears, get off and say, “I got something better to do.” You won’t have to waste your time.’ That neck has to be balanced and long.
  6. Some of you have heard me say this, but somebody asked me once, “What do you look for in a filly?” I said, ‘A filly should have a head like a princess and a butt like a fry cook and a walk like a hooker.’ Think about it. We look for those that have that movement. Don’t be afraid to put a little more emphasis on the selection of your young horses and their movement. We have found that the movement is so important.