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Lukas back on Derby trail after Rebel sweep

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Don't ever count out D. Wayne Lukas when it comes to the Kentucky Derby.

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The four-time Derby-winning trainer finds himself with not one but two legitimate chances after Will Take Charge and Oxbow ran 1-2 in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park over the weekend.

``The hill gets a little steeper at this point,'' the 77-year-old Hall of Fame trainer said.

The results send Will Take Charge and Oxbow into the AP's latest Run to the Roses Top 10 list of Derby contenders at Nos. 7 and 8, respectively.

Verrazano remained No. 1, with stablemate Shanghai Bobby second. Both colts are trained by Todd Pletcher, a former Lukas assistant.

Super Ninety Nine, one of trainer Bob Baffert's Derby hopefuls, finished fifth in the Rebel as the 6-5 favorite. The colt drops off the list, as does Code West, another Baffert trainee.

Will Take Charge, with Jon Court aboard, was sent off at odds of 28-1 and came through with a rousing stretch run to catch Oxbow in the final strides and win by a head. The victory comes after a sixth-place finish in the Southwest over a sloppy track.

``The best thing that can happen to you if you are a horse trainer is to have a bad memory,'' Lukas said.

He should know. For decades, Lukas was Mr. Derby, sending out a record 45 horses to run for the roses beginning in 1981. He won in 1988 with the filly Winning Colors, in 1995 with Thunder Gulch, in 1996 with Grindstone and in 1999 with Charismatic. Only Ben ``Plain Ben'' Jones has more Derby wins with six.

Since 2000, though, it's been slim pickins for one of the sport's most influential and successful trainers. After his streak of consecutive Derbys ended in 2001, Lukas has sent out only seven starters. His best finish was second in 2002 with Proud Citizen - four lengths behind War Emblem. Last year, he finished 11th with Optimizer.

Lukas could have another contender, or two, for the May 4 Derby by the end of this weekend. He plans to send out Channel Isle in the Spiral at Turfway Park on Saturday, and Titletown Five in the Sunland Derby on Sunday. Titletown Five is named for the Green Bay Packers and is co-owned by Paul Hornung, who wore No. 5.

Should Lukas win Derby No. 5, he would become the oldest trainer to take America's greatest race. Charlie Whittingham was 76 when he won with Sunday Silence in 1989.

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Here's our Top 10:

1. Verrazano (Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez): Tampa Bay Derby winner is 3-for-3 by a combined 27 lengths. ... Right now, looks to be best 3-year-old on Derby trail. ... Next start: Wood Memorial, Aqueduct, April 6. ... Derby future wager odds: 9-1.

2. Shanghai Bobby (Pletcher, Rosie Napravnik): Worked 5 furlongs in 1:00.14 Sunday at Palm Meadows. ... Pletcher upbeat after work by his 2-year-old champion, who was second in only race this year. ... Next start: Florida Derby, Gulfstream Park, March 30. ... Odds: 16-1.

3. Itsmyluckyday (Eddie Plesa Jr., Elvis Trujillo): Worked 5 furlongs in 1:01.00 Saturday at Calder with Trujillo in the irons. ... Holy Bull winner is 5-of-9 overall, and 2-2 this year. ... Next start: Florida Derby. ... Odds: 13-1.

4. Orb (Shug McGaughey, Velazquez): Fountain of Youth winner worked 4 furlongs in 48.00 Monday at Payson Park. ... Has won three in a row after opening career with three losses. ... Next start: Florida Derby. ... Odds: 12-1.

5. Vyjack (Rudy Rodriguez, Joel Rosario): New York-based trainer serving 20-day suspension for two positives from last year for use of an anti-inflammatory. ... Gotham winner worked 4 furlongs Friday in 51.23 at Aqueduct. ... Next start: Wood Memorial. ... Odds: 11-1.

6. Revolutionary (Pletcher, Javier Castellano): Worked 5 furlongs in 1:00.65 Sunday at Palm Meadows. ... Hasn't raced since Withers win Feb. 2. ... Next start: Louisiana Derby, Fair Grounds, March 30. ... Odds: 15-1.

7. Will Take Charge (D. Wayne Lukas, Jon Court): Took charge in final strides to win Rebel by a head over stablemate Oxbow at odds of 28-1. ... Hall of Fame trainer looking for fifth Derby win. ... Next start: Blue Grass, Keeneland, April 13. ... Odds: 3-1 (mutuel field).

8. Oxbow (Lukas, Mike Smith): Runner-up finish in Rebel gives Lukas Derby contender No. 2. ... Colt's connections feature great names in racing - Calumet Farm, Hall of Famers Lukas, Smith. ... Next start: Arkansas Derby, Oaklawn Park, April 13. ... Odds: 31-1.

9. Hear the Ghost (Jerry Hollendorfer, Corey Nakatani): San Felipe winner worked 4 furlongs in 50.80 Sunday at Hollywood Park. ... Gelding is son of 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper. ... Next start: Santa Anita Derby, Santa Anita, April 6. ... Odds: 3-1 (mutuel field).

10. Flashback (Bob Baffert, Garrett Gomez): Gomez takes over for Julien Leparoux after questionable ride in runner-up finish in San Felipe. ... Worked 48.40 Monday at Santa Anita. ... Next start: Santa Anita Derby. ... Odds: 12-1.

Keep an eye on: Code West, Den's Legacy, Normandy Invasion, Uncaptured, War Academy.

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Follow Richard Rosenblatt on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/rosenblattap

AP NEWS
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