An eighth of a mile from the wire, as the roar from the crowd of 86,343 swelled, Tabasco Cat hooked Go for Gin, who dug in and fought back. For several strides they tested each other's resolve. Seventy yards from the finish, Tabasco Cat put a nose in front and began to pull away. "Bring him on home!" Lukas shouted.
At the wire Tabasco Cat, the 3.6-1 third choice in the pari-mutuel wagering, behind Go for Gin and Blumin Affair, had drawn off for a �-length victory in 1:56[2/5] over a dull Pimlico strip. The gritty Go for Gin hung on for second, six lengths ahead of Concern.
When Tabasco Cat crossed the wire, Lukas didn't shed a tear. He didn't mention Jeff or the toughest year of his life. He just smiled. "How about that?" he said, whacking a friend on the back as he headed for the winner's circle.
In the giddy aftermath of what may be remembered as the most important win of his career, Lukas went out of his way to heap praise on Tabasco Cat's owners—William T. Young and David Reynolds—and on Day. And he marveled at how Tabasco Cat got a perfect trip. "It was an absolute script, just the way I wanted it to be," he said.
In his postrace interviews Lukas declined the opportunity to lash out at his media critics. "That was last year, and this is now," he said over and over. He also spoke guardedly about Jeff, who watched the race on TV at home in California before taking his children to a carnival.
"I talked with Jeff before the race," Lukas said. "He said, 'Dad, you've done the best you can do.' We've tried to keep that thing with Jeff separate and keep it in perspective. We're just trying to get our stable back to normal and have Jeff back working in it." Happily, Jeff's recovery has gone better than anyone expected, and there has even been talk of his returning to a limited schedule late this summer.
Lukas won't rush him, however. "I've changed my perspective some," he said. "You can't take anything for granted. You just get up each day and hope all the people you care about are still there."
"This game is like a big wheel," said Day, who also rode Tank's Prospect to victory for Lukas in the 1985 Preakness. "What goes around comes around. Mr. Lukas was in a bit of a slump, so to speak, but he remained upbeat. It was just a matter of time before he got back to where he was."
An hour after the race, as Lukas stood in the gathering twilight at Pimlico, a traffic helicopter flew low over the barn from which Tabasco Cat was being led out to graze. "I hate that noise," said Lukas, his smile momentarily becoming a frown. "Every time I hear it, I think about what happened to Jeff, and it makes me a little sick."
His listener nodded and looked at the trainer's cut finger. He couldn't help but note that in more ways than one, the bleeding finally had stopped for D. Wayne Lukas.