Top Grade I-winning older horses Art Collector, Hot Rod Charlie and Happy Saver will clash with Kentucky Derby 148 hero Rich Strike in a stellar ninth renewal of the $500,000 Lukas Classic (Grade II) on Saturday at Churchill Downs.
Named in honor of Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, the 1 1/8-mile Lukas Classic will go as Race 10 of 11 with a post time of 5:26 p.m. (all times Eastern). The Lukas Classic co-headlines Saturday’s program along with the $300,000 Ack Ack (GIII), a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In Dirt Mile Division” race that will go as Race 9 at 4:55 p.m. The first race of the day is 12:45 p.m.
Overall, the six entrants in this year’s Lukas Classic have amassed 30 wins with combined purse earnings of more than $12.4 million. The race annually serves as a steppingstone to the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) to be held this year Nov. 5 at Keeneland.
RED-TR Racing’s Rich Strike, who scored an 80-1 shocking upset in the $3 million Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (GI) in May, will become the first Kentucky Derby to race at Churchill Downs since 2009 upset winner Mine That Bird ran eighth in the 2010 Firecracker (GII) at one mile on turf (now known as the Wise Dan).
Rich Strike, a son of Keen Ice, finished an enigmatic sixth in this year’s Belmont Stakes (GI) but rebounded with a respectable fourth in the Travers (GI) behind Epicenter, Cyberknife and Zandon. Trained by Eric Reed, Rich Strike is a perfect 2-for-2 at Churchill Downs. His regular rider Sonny Leon, now based in south Florida, will be in the saddle from post No. 4.
The top earner in this year’s Lukas Classic is Hot Rod Charlie. Campaigned by Roadrunner Racing (Greg Helm), Boat Racing (Patrick O’Neill), William Strass and Gainesway Thoroughbreds (Anthony Beck) and trained by Doug O’Neill, Hot Rod Charlie has earned a stout $5,251,200 with four victories from 17 starts. The 4-year-old son of Oxbow finished third behind Life is Good and Happy Saver in the $1 million Whitney (GI). Previously, Hot Rod Charlie finished second by 1 ¾ lengths to Country Grammer in the $12 million Dubai World Cup (GI).
As a 3-year-old, Hot Rod Charlie was one of the country’s top sophomores. He finished second in the Kentucky Derby (GI) and Belmont Stakes (GI) and won the Pennsylvania Derby (GI). In the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Hot Rod Charlie was defeated just 4 ½ lengths by last year’s Lukas Classic winner Knicks Go. Jockey Tyler Gaffalione has the call in the Lukas Classic and will break from post 5.
One of the other top contenders in the Lukas Classic is Bruce Lunsford’s recent $1 million Charles Town Classic (GII) winner Art Collector. Trained by Bill Mott, Art Collector cruised to a 4 ¼-length victory in the Charles Town Classic as the heavy 1-2 favorite.
Previously, the 5-year-old son of Bernardini was the 1 ½-length victor of last year’s Woodward Stakes (GI) at Belmont Park. The Lukas Classic will be Art Collectors fourth start of his 2022 campaign. In February, Art Collector finished 12th in the $20 million Saudi Cup (GI). Mott brought Art Collector back to the races in early August where he defended his title in the Alydar Stakes. Jockey Luis Saez will be in town to ride from post 2.
The aforementioned Happy Saver will attempt to get his revenge from the Whitney on Hot Rod Charlie in the Lukas Classic. Owned by Wertheimer and Frere (Alain and Gerard Wertheimer) and trained by Todd Pletcher, Happy Saver has finished second in his last five outings – the 2021 Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI) and Clark (GI) and this year’s Alysheba (GII), Metropolitan Handicap (GI) and the Whitney.
A 5-year-old son of Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, Happy Saver won the 2020 Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI) as a 3-year-old. Overall, the talented chestnut sports a record of 11-5-5-1 with $1,173,300 in purse earnings.
Happy Saver will be ridden by John Velazquez from post 3.
The Lukas Classic field is rounded out by Fern Circle Stables and Three Chimneys Farm’s three-time stakes winner King Fury and the Estate of James Coleman Jr.’s five-time winner Chess Chief.
Here is the complete field from the rail out (with jockey and trainer): King Fury (Brian Hernandez Jr., Kenny McPeek); Art Collector (Saez, Mott); Happy Saver (Velazquez, Pletcher); Rich Strike (Leon, Reed); Hot Rod Charlie (Gaffalione, O’Neill); and Chess Chief (Rey Gutierrez, Dallas Stewart).