There was a time when top thoroughbred horses raced both well and often. Competing in four big races within a month was considered commonplace rather than some form of animal abuse. If a horse was healthy, it ran. That is what they are born to do after all. As extinct as the dinosaur, horses like Exterminator, Pan Zareta, and Kelso no longer roam American racetracks. More recently, stars of the last few decades, like Lady’s Secret and Skip Away, were hailed as “iron horses” for combining to make over 80 lifetime starts. Today, our top horses are considered to be asked too much of if they run in more than seven races a year. One man finds humor in this relatively new handling of our equine stars. His name is D. Wayne Lukas, and his current star, Will Take Charge, is a bit of a throwback.
"I took him out to breeze a little bit; he looked good," Lukas said after a Monday workout by Will Take Charge. "Actually, he was three-legged lame. He didn't eat up last night. He's got a temperature. And I think he's got the hives, but I think I'm going to run him."
In case your funny bone was found lacking at birth, Will Take Charge is not lame, far from it. Lukas knows it, and isn’t afraid to rub it in the collective nose of the current way of training and running a racehorse. Lukas has a big strong horse, an old time owner, and together they are enjoying the ride.
In a season that included eleven stakes attempts, including each leg of the Triple Crown, Will Take Charge closed his three-year-old season in high style by winning the Travers, Penn Derby, and Clark Handicap. Only a one-jump short run in the Breeders’ Cup Classic stopped him from a perfect end of season. It was a championship campaign that would seem in direct opposition against modern thought. How could a horse that ran in so many difficult races throughout the year, flourish on the track at year’s end? Will Take Charge did, and he has barely slowed down in 2014.
The good looking son of Unbridled’s Song, out of a wonderful female family, has run five times this year against top competition. While the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap is the only one in the win column, Will Take Charge continued to demonstrate his form and ability with rallying second place finishes in a trio of Grade 1's (The Donn, Big Cap, and most recently, Stephen Foster Handicap.) His lone disappointment of the year came in the Alysheba on Kentucky Derby Day, but he bounced back nicely in the Foster. Now away from the races for more than a month, Will Take Charge is gearing up for yet another big race.
At 5:30 a.m. on Monday over the Oklahoma training track, Will Take Charge got in his typical work. The five furlong breeze was workmanlike, for this is no time to be freshening for another chance at the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The next race on his dance card is the Spa’s Grade 1, $1.5 million Whitney Saturday after next.
When asked about the prestigious Whitney Handicap, in which Will Take Charge will face Palace Malice, the current top rated horse in America, among other top older males, the 78-year-old Lukas pulled no punches in standing by the 2013 Three-Year-old Male Champion.
"Look, we're the champion,” said Lukas. “We don't give a damn who shows up. Bring 'em on. You can't dodge them; they're all going to show up. Line 'em up. Let's see what we've got. There's no place to hide in Saratoga."
Palace Malice will no doubt take some beating in the Whitney, but Will Take Charge cannot be discounted. He ran two excellent races against Palace Malice last summer at Saratoga, and despite dancing every dance, he continues to be one of the strongest horses in the land. He’s a throwback to racing times gone by. And keep in mind, all of these 8 ½ and 9 furlong races might actually be a little short for the strapping chestnut. Ten furlongs is likely his preferred distance, and luckily for Willis Horton, D. Wayne Lukas, and Will Take Charge, that is the distance once again of this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. Love of distance is just another example of Will Take Charge being a horse we just don’t see very often anymore.