Photo: Eclipse Sportswire
Will Take Charge, the reigning 3-year-old Champion and one of the top handicap horses in training, will take on a formidable field of six other horses when he goes postward as the early favorite for the $600,000 Oaklawn Handicap at Oaklawn Park on Saturday.
The Oaklawn Handicap G2) is one of four stakes events on the 12-race card, which is highlighted by the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1), on the closing day of the track’s prestigious Racing Festival of the South and of the meet.
Multiple graded stakes winner Will Take Charge, who is owned by Willis Horton of Marshall, Arkansas and Three Chimneys Farm and is trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, has been installed as the even-money choice for the 1 1/8 miles test over his home track.
Will Take Charge will be asked to shoulder highweight of 123 pounds, including regular rider Luis Saez, who picked up the mount on Strong Mandate for Lukas in the Arkansas Derby. Will Take Charge, a son of Unbridled’s Song, has amassed earnings of $3,305,148 from a record of six wins and five seconds in 17 tries, and he comes into the Oaklawn Handicap after two impressive seconds in a pair of Grade 1 races on opposite coasts this season.
He began his 4-year-old campaign with his trademark powerful closing kick to miss by 1 1/2 lengths behind Lea in Gulfstream Park’s Donn Handicap (G1), and then the margin was 1 ¾ back when Game on Dude won a record third consecutive Santa Anita Handicap (G1) on Mar. 8.
Will take Charge must concede from 10 to five pounds to his rivals and will break from post #2.
Todd Pletcher, who cut his teeth as one of Lukas’ former top assistants, will take aim at the prohibitive favorite with two solid shots in Revolutionary and Golden Lad.
“That is a formidable task,” said Pletcher, also sends out Commissioner and Danza in the Arkansas Derby that day. “I have a lot of respect for Will Take Charge and how good he is, especially on his home track. It’s a tall order, but we felt like it was the right spot for our two horses and we’ll hope for the best.”
The multiple graded stakes-winning Revolutionary, a WinStar Farm homebred by War Pass, was seventh when he faced Will Take Charge in the Donn last out. Golden Lad proved an affinity for Oaklawn’s racing strip when he whistled over it while winning the Razorback Handicap (G3), the local prep for the Oaklawn Handicap, by almost seven lengths Mar. 15. Mrs. Paul Robsham’s homebred Golden Lad seeks his fifth consecutive victory on Saturday.
“We’re very pleased with the way Golden Lad handled the track there and he seems to be improving all the time. This will be his toughest test to date, but based on the strength of his performance in the Razorback, this seems to be the logical next step for him,” said Pletcher.
Revolutionary, who won the Withers (G3) and the Louisiana Derby (G2) and was third in the Kentucky Derby (G1) last year, will break from the inside under new rider Mike Smith. Golden Lad, a son of Medaglio d’Oro who won the Razorback in his first try in stakes company, drew post #6 and will partner with Gary Stevens for the first time.
“I’m not overly concerned with Revolutionary being in the one-hole because he’s going to drop back a bit. He had an inside post in the (Kentucky) Derby and an inside trip and he seemed to have handled it pretty well that day, so I’m okay with that and with Golden Lad’s post,” Pletcher said. “We’re very pleased with the way Golden Lad handled the track there and he seems to be improving all the time. This will be his toughest test to date, but based on the strength of his performance in the Razorback, this seems to be the logical next step.”
Will Take Charge will also get a rematch with Moreno, who hopes to turn the tables for the first time, on Saturday. The two met in four consecutive graded stakes races last year- the Jim Dandy (G2), Travers (G1), Pennsylvania Derby (G2) and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1)- but Moreno could never best his rival.
Will Take Charge and Moreno ran 2-3 behind the Pletcher-trained Palace Malice in the Jim Dandy, then staged a memorable battle in the Travers when Will Take Charge closed through the lane to prevail over Moreno by a nose. The Pennsylvania Derby was won decisively by Will Take Charge when Moreno was beaten by 2 14/ lengths. Will Take Charge missed by just a nose in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic while Moreno was no factor.
Moreno, who trained by Eric Guillot, is the second highweight at 118 pounds and he gets a new rider in Joel Rosario for the grudge match.
Zayat Stables’ Prayer for Relief, recently transferred to the barn of Dale Romans, looks to get back on the winning track after a dull effort in the Mineshaft Handicap (G3) in his last start, and the locally based Carve and Right to Vote, the Essex Handicap winner here Feb. 14, complete the field.
The field for the Oaklawn Handicap, from the rail in post-position order with riders, weights and odds is: Revolutionary, Mike Smith, 117, 9-2; Will Take Charge, Luis Saez, 123, 1-1; Right to Vote, Ricardo Santana, Jr., 113; Carve, Jesus Castanon, 113, 12-1; Moreno, Joel Rosario, 118, 9-2; Golden Lad, Gary Stevens, 116, 4-1; Prayer for Relief, Norberto Arroyo, Jr., 116, 12-1.