Soon after McLaughlin saw Lukas at Belmont, Lukas flew to California, and on the morning of May 24, Jeff Lukas and trainer Clyde Rice, Wayne's oldest friend, talked Wayne into leaving his barn at Santa Anita early under the pretext that Rice wanted to see Jeff's new home in Glendora. Rice and Jeff and the eight travelers had gathered over dinner the night before at the Holiday Inn in Monrovia, a mile from Santa Anita, and had agreed to hold the intervention at Jeff's place. So it was, at 9:30 a.m. on the 24th that Wayne stepped into his son's living room and confronted a circle of faces, some of which he hadn't seen in months.
"What are you doing here?" Lukas asked.
French came forward and put his arms around him. "Wayne, we love you," said French. "We're here to support you."
Darrell Wayne Lukas broke down and wept.
While Lukas's despondency over the death of Union City—and the attacks upon him that the tragedy engendered—were the reasons for the intervention, those who gathered that morning were aware that their friend was also under pressure to square debits with credits throughout his empire. Lukas has not been winning as much as he once did. And win he surely did, as no one else ever has.
From 1983, when the horses he trained earned $4.27 million, through 1988, when his far-flung charges, including Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors, won $17.8 million, Lukas set an earnings record each year. Since the Breeders' Cup series began in 1984, horses wearing Lukas's white bridles have won 10 Cup races, six more than the second-leading trainer, and since he started training, in 1978, he has had 11 Eclipse champions, including two Horses of the Year—Lady's Secret in 1986 and Criminal Type in '90.
No one has ever done it like Lukas. He has a national vision of the sport. At one time or another he has had thriving barns at every major track from California to Kentucky to New York. French and Mel Hatley, an Oklahoma businessman, backed him heavily in the early days, but Lukas's buying power did not reach its zenith until he and Gene Klein, the former majority owner of the San Diego Chargers, met in 1982. Klein's finances were soon to be in a highly liquid state; he would sell his interest in the Chargers for more than $50 million in '84. By then Lukas had demonstrated a keen eye for yearling horseflesh—1982 juvenile filly champion Landaluce, who died of a mysterious viral infection in November of that year, was but one of many major winners he had plucked from sales—and in Klein he met the man who would become the busiest American shopper of them all.
With Klein, French, Hatley and others behind him, Lukas bought just about any horse he wanted. "When I went to the sales, I was answerable only to my conscience and good judgment," says Lukas. "I bought the horse that looked like an athlete, that looked like a racehorse."
Because none of his big owners were breeders, the pedigrees did not really matter. The only question was, Does Lukas like 'em? According to the Jockey Club's Equine Line computer service, between 1985 and '90 Lukas bought 337 yearlings for a total of $104.6 million. At the end of a sale he would sit down and divide the horses among his owners, taking a 5% commission for himself and frequently investing his own money to keep a piece of his purchases. In 1988, the year Lukas set the money-winning record, 26 of the 38 horses in his New York barn alone won graded stakes races.
His empire began to unravel when an ailing Klein dispersed his holdings in 1989. He died the next year, and Lukas failed to find anyone with enough chutzpah and millions to take his place. The 1985 Tax Reform Act had eliminated any tax advantage to owning racehorses, making a tough business even tougher. When the economy went into free-fall in the late '80s, more owners left the business. "We used to have one owner who'd buy 10 horses," says trainer David Cross. "Now we have 10 owners who buy one horse. When Gene Klein left, that was the end of Lukas as we knew him."