In April 2017, legendary trainer D. Wayne Lukas announced that the Kentucky Derby Museum would be the permanent home of the massive collection charting his still active career. That summer, the KDM team spent two weeks moving the over 1,300 piece collection to the Museum. It was both an exciting and intimidating task. However, I can honestly say that in my 20 plus years in the field, there have been few experiences that compare with having decades of history in front of you told through the lens of a single career. Finding a way to adequately share that story would be both an honor and a challenge.
The KDM team spent the better part of 2018 working with Relay Design and Solid Light, both from Louisville, in crafting the look and selecting the artifacts for a permanent exhibition. Part of an 11,000 square-foot expansion project, D. Wayne Lukas: The Modern Trainer features a trophy case with approximately 200 items. An impressive sight, it becomes even more so when you realize this is only about one-third of Lukas’ trophy collection. In addition to Wayne’s vast array of awards, there are also many pieces of art in the exhibit, both Western and Thoroughbred and not all representing his winners.
Of course, a major goal of the exhibit is to tell the amazing story of this industry icon. Wayne Lukas has an unsurpassed work ethic. As demanding as working for him may be, he is a generous mentor, with former employees now successfully managing their own stables. This sense of dedication is featured throughout the exhibition. Sections on his former assistants and his lasting legacy feature interviews with colleagues and family members talking about the positive impact Wayne has made on their lives. Wayne’s dedication to his craft is also captured in the daily and yearly schedule sections. Here, visitors to KDM get a clear sense that the equine industry is a 24/7/365 way of life, and not just a career.
However, one of my lasting memories while working on this project is how much of a storyteller Wayne is. He has a gift for articulating the vision for his team, life and career and capturing the attention of the audience. Wayne has great reverence for the Kentucky Derby, a fact he has stated on many occasions. Of all his Derby-related quotes, one of my favorites is this one from 1995 told to the late racing writer Jim Bolus: “I don’t think that you just go haphazardly rolling along in these deals and then end up on the first Saturday in May ready to run and win. I think you have to have a master plan, and I think you have to give a lot of thought to it.” This not only relates how important the Derby is to Wayne, it also illustrates how it is very tough to win on the first Saturday in May.
The process of obtaining a collection and transforming it into a meaningful exhibition is a long journey, but a fruitful one. Through the use of artifacts, video, images and text, KDM has done its best to capture the ongoing career of trainer D. Wayne Lukas and his impact on the Kentucky Derby and the Thoroughbred industry. Explore the KDM virtual museum and see for yourself. Hopefully, it will entice you to add KDM to your future places to visit and learn more about this landmark sporting and cultural event.