Sunday, May 05, 2002

2nd-place finish has Proud Citizen's trainer beaming


Horse has come a long way after early struggles

By Gary Estwick, gestwick@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

128th KENTUCKY DERBY
field
Jockey Victor Espinoza, aboard War Emblem, is triumphant as he wins the 128th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
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        LOUISVILLE — Proud Citizen's journey from the Santa Anita Derby to the Kentucky Derby was just as amazing as Saturday's second-place finish at Churchill Downs.

        “That's true,” trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. “If you would have asked me 60 days ago, I would have said it was a stretch of the imagination to get him here.”

        Just last month, Proud Citizen's fate seemed to be headed in a different direction. On April 6 — two races before the horse finished 4 lengths behind War Emblem in the 128th Derby — Proud Citizen struggled to a seventh-place finish at Santa Anita. The race was his first start as a 3-year-old.

        Proud Citizen also sat out of racing for eight months as a 2-year old because of knee surgery.

        But he followed up his dismal performance in Santa Anita two weeks later by racing in the Lexington Stakes, one of the last Derby prep races. He won.

        The victory gave Lukas enough confidence to enter Proud Citizen in Saturday's race.

        It also gave jockey Mike Smith enough confidence to say after the race his horse would have won a similar race on any other day.

        “Just not today,” Smith said. “I'm hoping we can get to a different course, and maybe I'd be able to turn the tables on (War Emblem).”

        It didn't happen this time because of War Emblem's power down the stretch. The two dueling horses, along with third-place finisher Perfect Drift, pushed the field of 18 for most of the 1 1/4-mile race. War Emblem won in 2:01.13, the ninth-fastest time ever.

        The stretch belonged to War Emblem. But when Proud Citizen began to lose ground, the horse showed Smith something portending an exciting future.

        “Any other horse would have just caved in, but mine reached out from somewhere and got me second,” he said. “He took one little breath of air and took off. Nice and eager. That's a good sign.”

        Smith said if he had a chance to run the race again, the only adjustment he might make would be to take advantage of an earlier chance to take off.

        “I was happy where I was at,” Smith said. “I was content playing the race out from where I was. It was actually our game plan falling right into place.”

        Everything worked out but the ending.

        Smith is still looking forward to the future with Proud Citizen.

        “Hopefully we can turn the tables in the next one (Preakness Stakes),” Smith said.

        If Proud Citizen had pulled off the win, the horse would have partially duplicated the road traveled by another one of Lukas' horses. Charismatic won the Lexington Stakes en route to the 1999 Derby and Preakness.

        Lukas' history in the business tells him that for Proud Citizen, the Preakness is a possibility.

        “We beat some nice horses today,” he said. “And I think we're going to beat some nice horses down the line.”

       



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