On a rainy day similar to the last few, the horses settle in for the evening on the back side at Oaklawn Park. Approximately 1,500 horses call this place home during the race season. They train rain or shine with amazing people, from trainers to grooms, who take care of them. Each horse tries to unlock its potential to do great things, but today, I search out one in particular: a 3-year-old bay colt located in the Royal Glint barn named Sporting Chance.
The colt has already traveled many miles from last fall to get to Oaklawn Park. His groom, Lupe, has been with him every step of the way, from Churchill Downs to Saratoga Springs to Hot Springs, and has groomed other greats, such as Will Take Charge. Standing over 16 hands, Sporting Chance towered over his gate when I got to his stall. The assistant trainer, Bass Nicholl, indicated one of the colt’s friends, a barn cat that sleeps in the stall next door. As with many horses, a pony is used to help bring the colt to the track for training. A relationship is born over the many months of training. This colt has plenty of affection for his pony buddy, Starbuck, that has been with him since last year. Along with the specific jobs that a trainer, groom, and exercise rider perform, a farrier is used to tend to the horse’s feet. A horse relies on the farrier to perform his craft to ensure that each step is a good one. Sporting Chance’s trainer, D. Wayne Lukas, uses a blacksmith named Cristian Fuentes, who is originally from Chile. He began working with the Lukas barn two years ago in New York.
When I first looked at Sporting Chance, he was already a winner, having won the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga, a race that Lukas had previously won eight times. Some of the trainer’s most recent Hopeful winners include Dublin and Strong Mandate. Following the Saratoga meet, Sporting Chance had minor knee surgery, after which he was sent to Oaklawn to prepare for the meet. His first race back was the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes on February 19, 2018, which was two days before his actual birthday. With Luis Saez up as jockey, Sporting Chance finished third, earning points for a spot in the Kentucky Derby. The Grade 2 Rebel Stakes on March 17, 2018, is the next target that the Lukas stable has great expectations for, and the race follows a similar schedule that was used Lukas used for Dublin and Strong Mandate.
While I was visiting the stable, the Lukas team was preparing a 3-year-old filly for the last race of the day. With the rain falling outside, they continued their duties while I took my photos. Sporting Chance stuck his head outside the stall, and my camera and I were being observed to determine if we were going to be allowed to be friends with him. I wished the barn the best of luck in the last race as they headed to the track. I checked the results later to see how she ran and was excited to see a second-place finish. It didn’t surprise me as I thought of the day’s events.
Just as the colt’s name states, I know that this stable always has a Sporting Chance.