Photo: Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography
On the morning after his dramatic, last-gasp victory over favored Game On Dude in the 139th
running of the $500,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (Grade I), Willis D. Horton’s Will Take Charge was accepting peppermints from visitors and generally looking as if he was ready and eager for his next racing assignment.
victory in which the 3-year-old son of Unbridled’s Song powered through
the final sixteenth of a mile to edge Game On Dude and other
accomplished older rivals by a head, ended any suspense
in regard to his chances of earning the Eclipse Award for the top U.S.
3-year-old of 2013.
The Clark was the finale of an old school racing campaign for the D. Wayne Lukas-trained
star that started in January with a victory in the Smarty Jones Stakes
at Oaklawn Park and ended with the Clark,
his eleventh race of the season. In between, he won the Rebel (GII) at
Oaklawn, muddled through the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown series in
which he had little impact, and launched a second-half surge on the year
that include victories in the Travers (GI),
Pennsylvania Derby (GII) and heartbreaking runner-up finish to Mucho Macho Man in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) at Santa Anita.
When he added the
exclamation point on his late season rush by overtaking Horse of the
Year contender Game On Dude in the Clark, conventional wisdom leaned
toward an Eclipse Award for top 3-year-old being
a certainty for Will Take Charge. And Bob Baffert, the trainer of
Game On Dude, suggested after the Clark that Will Take Charge should be
one of those under consideration for “Horse of the Year.”
Although he had
been the center of big event and very significant win just hours
earlier, Lukas said his colt was very well on Saturday morning.
“He’s very good,”
Lukas said. “It’s amazing how composed and everything he was in the
winner’s circle. He wasn’t blowing much, or anything.
“I think he struggled with the racetrack a little bit. But maybe the others did, too.”
improved Will Take Charge’s record for his 3-year-old season to 11-5-2-0
with earnings just shy of $3 million at $2,960,977.
Lukas smiled at
the notion of how close his durable colt had come to a $3 million
season, and suggested, in jest, that he might have one more race in him.
“Well, Turfway’s about to open,” he said. “There’s always the ($50,000) Holiday Inaugural.”
That $50,000 race
at the Northern Kentucky track is clearly not on the agenda for Will
Take Charge, but Lukas was more confident on Saturday that the improving
son of Unbridled’s Song out of the likely “Broodmare
of the Year” Take Charge Lady would return to competition in 2014.
continues to negotiate on a deal for stallion duty for Will Take Charge
when the colt ends his racing career, his Hall of Fame trainer is
increasingly optimistic that fans will see the colt
on the track again.
“We’ve got four
farms that are very strong, interested players,” Lukas said. “What I
think is gonna happen is either they’ll go partners (with Horton) and
run him next year, or they’ll tie him up for the
breeding shed and run him next year. I think Willis wants to run him
next year. At first there was talk about an outright sale and take him
to the breeding shed, but I don’t think that is going to happen.”
that optimistic approach, Lukas said Will Take Charge will take it easy
for a while and he would look for a race, probably in March, to launch a
2014 run for the colt. Until then, the glow
of the sizzling stretch run that saw Will Take Charge collar Game On
Dude in the last instant will be a moment to savor.
“It was a real good race for fans,” Lukas said. “With those two good horses and the way it came down, it was really good.”
victory, which was the first stakes victory for Lukas at Churchill
Downs since 2009, makes the year of the resurgence of the 78-year-old
Lukas all the more impressive. In all of Lukas’
stellar seasons in which he has topped the earnings list or trained one
or more champions, he has never quite had a year like 2013.
“I think we did more with less than maybe most of the guys,” Lukas said. “Todd
(Pletcher) had a great year and (Charlie) LoPresti
was strong. But when you consider what we started with in the barn and
look at our year, we had some very good days. But we had a lot of gaps
in there between the big races. We didn’t have much in our barn to
really say too much about. But I think to develop
those three-or-four that we did – (Preakness winner) Oxbow, Will
Take Charge and (2-year-old Hopeful winner) Strong Mandate
– it’s not a bad run.”