BALTIMORE - It is remembered mostly as the race in which the filly was mugged, but the Preakness of 30 years ago also is known as the race that produced arguably the most iconic figure of racing's modern era.
The 1980 Preakness was the first Triple Crown event in which D. Wayne Lukas ran a horse. Today, Lukas is virtually synonymous with major racing events, having started more horses in Triple Crown races than any other trainer in history. Little could anyone have known that when Lukas enjoyed his first moments in the national spotlight by saddling Codex to defeat the Kentucky Derby-winning filly Genuine Risk in that memorable Preakness, he would be saddling his 100th and 101st starters in a Triple Crown race three decades later.
"I remember after we won that first one, I told [son] Jeff, 'We're going to win lots of these,'" said Lukas, who will run Dublin and Northern Giant in the 135th Preakness on Saturday at Pimlico. "But they're a lot harder to come by than anybody knows."
Lukas, now 74, has won 13 Triple Crown events, including the Preakness five times, but he is unsure his Hall of Fame career would have unfolded in the manner it did if not for the early confidence placed in him by John Nerud, whose Tartan Farm bred and owned Codex. Lukas had been a teacher and coach before training Quarter Horses, then turning to Thoroughbreds in his early 40s.
Codex won the Hollywood Derby and Santa Anita Derby that spring but was not nominated to the Kentucky Derby, the details of which Lukas can still recall in excruciating detail. Lukas said Nerud did not want to run Codex in the Preakness before finally giving in to Lukas's desires.
Codex, ridden by Angel Cordero Jr., went to the lead entering the far turn of the 105th Preakness, then floated extremely wide entering the stretch, intimidating and brushing with Genuine Risk, who was launching her run from the outside with Jacinto Vasquez aboard. Codex proceeded to draw off to a 4 3/4-length victory, with Genuine Risk second.
A stewards' inquiry and an objection by Vasquez found no grounds for a disqualification, although by the next morning an enormous controversy had already begun. People were outraged that the filly had been subjected to such rough treatment - "mugging" was a term in vogue at the time - and they demonized Cordero for his actions.
"That stuff doesn't bother me anymore," Cordero, now a jockey agent, said this week. "Everybody has an opinion. It's part of life. They've got to talk about somebody, so they talked about me. It was like the movie 'Scarface,' they point at me and say, 'There goes the bad guy.' "
Lukas said Daily Racing Form columnist Joe Hirsch walked into his office on that drizzly Sunday morning and said, "Wayne, I don't think it's going to be all warm and fuzzy about this inquiry."
Indeed, the public outcry was so strong that the Maryland Racing Commission launched an exhaustive investigation and held days of hearings into the incident, ultimately deciding in favor of the Pimlico stewards. The series of events has claimed a prominent place in Preakness lore, while also serving as a launching point for one of the most recognizable figures in American racing history.
"John could've chosen anybody to give Codex to, and he chose this unproven guy from the Quarter Horse ranks," said Lukas. "That confidence he showed was paramount in my career. He put me in a position where people could see whether or not I could do the job."