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Of course there is nothing new about sore or infirm horses going to the post. While his fans held their breath, Forego repeatedly raced with an ankle that looked like a gourd, and Swaps was sore when he stepped into the gate against Nashua in their 1955 match race, won by Nashua. After the outstanding filly Go For Wand broke down on national television in the 1990 Breeders' Cup, racing grew particularly sensitive to the subject of horses having to be destroyed. With much speculation over Union City's prerace condition both before and after the Preakness, some suggested that a financially strapped Lukas might have been pressing by sending him to the track.
"I didn't press," says Lukas. "I'm paid to get horses ready for major stakes that I think I can win. When I can't [get them ready], as in the case of Farma Way, I don't [run them]." Lukas scratched Farma Way from the Breeders' Cup Classic in 1991, forfeiting the owners' $360,000 entry fee, when the colt injured his ankle.
Many horsemen regard Lukas as the best promoter the sport has ever known, a man who revolutionized the business, and they have rallied to his side. "I've never been so disillusioned as I have been in reading and hearing about Lukas," says Cross. "It's the most unjust thing."
In a letter to the Daily Racing Form, Union City's owner, William Young, wrote, "The decision to run in the Preakness was mine, not Wayne Lukas'. This decision was made after consultation with my staff, independent veterinarians and, of course, Wayne Lukas. I don't fully understand the controversy surrounding this tragic loss as we would never intentionally run an unsound horse."
Despite all the support, Lukas was wincing under the week-long barrage when Rice and Jeff led him into Jeff's living room on May 24. The session lasted seven hours, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. It began with Lukas's friends standing up, one by one, and telling stories about what he had meant to them. Lukas talked about his life, about where he had started out and how he had gotten where he was, and about his troubles. "It became an open forum," he says. "They pointed out things I had done wrong."
The topics ranged from his relations with the press to his tendency of late to withdraw from friends. "Your main ability is with horses and people," Eaton told him. "There is no better motivator. You need to get your mind off everything but training horses and communicating with your owners."
The group discussed the idea that Lukas turn his financial affairs over to someone else. "No way!" Lukas said repeatedly. But his friends kept urging him in that direction. He finally agreed. A longtime friend, R.T. Williams, said to him, "Wayne, let's hear an 'I will' statement."
"I will turn my finances over to someone else," Lukas said and then added, "with the understanding that all my creditors are paid in full, all my vendors."
That was the final promise they elicited from Lukas. The 11 men stood and held hands while Eaton prayed. Lukas says it was one of the most vivid experiences of his life. The next day, as he sat in his office in Arcadia and mused aloud about the previous week, Lukas looked more relaxed than he had in years. But he had difficulty talking about that long encounter with his friends at Jeff's house.
"Why does someone like Lee Eaton drop everything, leave his family on vacation, and fly out here at his expense to tell me that he loves me?" said Lukas quietly. "I don't know if a guy deserves that, the love and support that was shown in that room. For hours! I wasn't prepared for the outpouring of support. It was a beautiful thing."