Can a horse who floundered through the Triple Crown, finishing 8th, 7th, and 10th respectively, possibly end the year as the Three-year-old Male Champion? In the case of Will Take Charge, the answer is yes.
The next hurdle on this unlikely road will take place Saturday at Parx when the D. Wayne Lukas charge will be favored to add the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby to his growing resume. A winner of three stakes races in 2013, Will Take Charge threw his hat into the championship ring with a thrilling late burst that carried him to victory against a strong field in the Travers. Was it too little too late to become a champion? No, a win or two more this year, and he may just be the last one standing in this race.
While it cannot be disputed that Will Take Charge has thrown in some poor efforts this year, the son of Unbridled’s Song has also proven to be a bear when given the opportunity to fight it out to the wire. Case in point, are all three of his stakes scores.
The interesting ride all started in the Smarty Jones Stakes for the colt owned by Arkansas native, Willis Horton. Despite being hung out very wide on the first turn, Will Take Charge joined Texas Bling for a prolonged stretch battle, and just when it looked like the stakes winner to his inside would not yield, or maybe that the late-running Always In A Tiz would roll by late, Will Take Charge found another gear to take the money by the length of his distinguishable snout.
After never getting involved in a sloppy edition of the Southwest Stakes, Will Take Charge demonstrated true grit late as he accelerated to, and just past, his soon to be Preakness winning stablemate, Oxbow in the Rebel Stakes. If the win in the Smarty Jones was gutsy, this one, in which he kicked it into another speed late to edge by a very game Oxbow, was a demonstration of class as much as determination. It sent him off to the Kentucky Derby as still a dark horse, but one in with a chance.
The Triple Crown was a mess, with only the Kentucky Derby offering a real excuse as to why he finished off the board. In the sloppy Run for the Roses, he was mounting some serious get up and go on the far turn when he was completely shut off by a tiring Verrazano. Who knows what happens that day with a clear path, but he had no such excuses in a pair of dull efforts in both the Preakness and Belmont.
It wasn’t so much back to the drawing board as it was up to the Spa for Will Take Charge post-Triple Crown. Feeling good at Saratoga, the long shot ran a big race in a losing effort in the Jim Dandy. His late burst fell short to Palace Malice that day, but it was the kind of impressive finish that saw him make it to the winner’s circle in those two Oaklawn Park stakes races. It was on to the Travers, where he was considered to be the colt with the best shot to challenge the big three of Orb, Palace Malice, and Verrazano.
With a dramatic last ditch push to wire, Will Take Charge won the Mid-Summer Derby. The way he won was eerily reminiscent of how he lunged by Oxbow in the Rebel, but this time the stakes were decidedly higher, and with division leaders, Orb and Palace Malice just behind, it thrust Will Take Charge into the championship picture.
Now some of the best three-year-olds head to Suburban Philadelphia and the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby. Among them will be Will Take Charge. A five-furlong bullet on Friday at Saratoga signals that the long-legged colt with the big white nose remains in fine fettle heading to his next major test. A test that will reunite him with his now familiar foe, Moreno, a late-developing speedster who gave Will Take Charge all he wanted in both the Jim Dandy and the Travers.
He hasn’t yet reached the heights of his mom, Take Charge Lady, who won eight graded stakes in the early years of the last decade, but the $425,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase is starting to come on late.
A good Pennsylvania Derby will send him to the Breeders' Cup Classic. Much like he did in each of three stakes wins this year, Will Take Charge sees the wire in front of him, and this time he’s reaching for an Eclipse Award. I would not underestimate his ability to do so.