Word out of Hot Springs, Arkansas is that Will Take Charge is in fine fettle, and that we should expect to see the genuine article when he makes his debut as an older horse in the Donn Handicap in two weeks time. If so, if the newly minted 3yo Male Champion that danced every dance, and finished 2013 off so strongly, can indeed pick up where he left off and shine again in this new year, he will be bucking a trend in American racing that needs a good bucking.
Of the last dozen 3yo Male Champions, only two of those Eclipse Award winners became stakes winners in their four-year-old season. Think about that for a moment. The horses that we recognized as the best of our most celebrated division failed to come back to win a single stakes race the following year in ten of the last twelve seasons. I believe this stat, as much as any, speaks to a real weakness in American racing. It is also easily explained. Take a look at the list’s respective four-year-old seasons.
2001 - Point Given - Retired
2002 - War Emblem - Retired
2003 - Funny Cide - (10-3-2-3) Jockey Club Gold Cup winner.
2004 - Smarty Jones - Retired
2005 - Afleet Alex - Retired
2006 - Bernardini - Retired
2007 - Curlin - (7-5-1-0) Horse of the Year.
2008 - Big Brown - Retired
2009 - Summer Bird - Retired
2010 - Lookin at Lucky - Retired
2011 - Animal Kingdom - (2-1-1-0) Allowance winner and BC Mile 2nd.
2012 - I’ll Have Another - Retired
As you can see, most of the last dozen 3yo Male Champions had no chance to prove to be quality older horses. 75% of them were retired before their older racing career could begin. Of the other three, Curlin came back as good as ever, Funny Cide was solid, and a major winner, and Animal Kingdom lost much of his four-year-old season, but still proved his class in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, and then famously in the following year’s Dubai World Cup.
This success is a good sign for Will Take Charge, the older horse, but frankly, the way he closed last year, he does not seem like a colt in need of positive omens.
An iron horse three-year-old, he ran eleven times in 2013, all of them being stakes races. Will Take Charge ran on seven different dirt tracks ranging in distance from a mile to twelve furlongs. He ran in America’s most prestigious races, and as he did in many of his races, he finished with a flourish.
In his final five races, and since dropping blinkers, he finished a fast closing second to Palace Malice in the Jim Dandy, he defeated the top competition of his crop in the Travers, he easily won the Pennsylvania Derby, he missed getting up in the Breeders’ Cup Classic by a whisker, and then nailed Game On Dude in the final yards of the Clark Handicap.
It appears clear that success for Will Take Charge as a four-year-old will not be the thing that bucks a trend, because the good ones do come back well, and Will Take Charge is definitely a good one. The thing that really makes this son of Unbridled’s Song different than most of our recent champions is his connections’ willingness and sportsmanship in bringing him back for more.
Owner Willis Horton, last seen stealing the show at the Eclipse Awards, should be thanked and congratulated for working out a breeding deal with Three Chimneys that allows him to campaign the best horse he will ever own for his four-year-old season. In fact, that is what I am going to do right now ... On behalf of American racing fans, I say thank you, Willis Horton.