Will Take Charge (above, winning the Pennsylvania Derby) has asserted himself as a force in the 3-year-old division in the second half of 2013. (Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire)
When D. Wayne Lukas decided Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up Will Take Charge would be pointed to the Clark Handicap, most racing fans figured the Hall of Fame trainer wanted one more Grade 1 win to firm up the Unbridled’s Song colt’s résumé for year-end championship honors in the 3-year-old division.
On Saturday, Lukas said that the rationale for targeting the Clark is much simpler: Will Take Charge is at the top of his game right now.
“The timing is pretty good,” Lukas said. “I almost wish there was more to the season, because he is good right now. It’s a prestigious race in many ways. It’s a Grade 1 and if we could get another Grade 1 against older competition around two turns, I think it would be significant.”
This year did not produce a dominant 3-year-old male. Orb was the star of the first half of the season, winning the Fountain of Youth Stakes before posting Grade 1 victories in the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby.
Will Take Charge won the Smarty Jones and Rebel Stakes in the first half of the year and the Grade 1 Travers and $1 million Pennsylvania Derby in the second half. He also finished second in the Jim Dandy Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup Classic after the Triple Crown, which Lukas believes put Will Take Charge in the driver’s seat for the Eclipse Award.
But Lukas also said he does not view the Eclipse Award as the motivation to run Will Take Charge in the $500,000 Clark at Churchill Downs on Nov. 29.
“I think he’s already sealed it,” Lukas said. “I would rather take the position that the Clark is a significant race with Grade 1 status and a nice purse, and an opportunity to showcase our horse again.
“I’ve been dealing with six or seven different farms that are interested in standing this horse. None of them at any time said to me, ‘Well, if he’s 3-year-old champion, what about that?’ That has never come up in the conversation. They’re looking at the merit of what we’ve already done, the body of work we’ve already done.”
WILL TAKE CHARGE (outside) CAME UP JUST SHORT IN THE CLASSIC
Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire
Whether or not Lukas is concerned with year-end championships, the racing community certainly is engaged in debate about this division.
The argument against Will Take Charge is that one Grade 1 win on the year - in a race that was not part of the Triple Crown – is not enough to win an Eclipse Award. Not when the Derby winner has two Grade 1s and Will Take Charge failed to place in each of the three classics.
Of course, Orb faded in the second half of the year when Will Take Charge was just coming into his own.
“He’s rangy, but he’s starting to get a little bit more muscle tone to him and filling out,” Lukas said of Will Take Charge, who breezed a half-mile in 49 seconds on Saturday at Churchill Downs. “He stays into the feed tub and does everything you’d like, but a lot of these gangly athletes don’t get good until they get older, and that’s the way he is.
“He’s better mentally, too. He now has got the idea that if he clocks them and you set him down at the top of the stretch, he finishes. To run down those horses – Game On Dude and Mucho Macho Man and those type horses – in the stretch like did after getting bumped and pushed out [in the Classic] was significant. I mean, he was running.”
Whether Lukas wants to admit it or not, a Clark win would go a long way toward swaying any voters on the fence as well as some voters who favor Orb’s body of work at this point. The Clark is a Grade 1 race against older horses that would be fresh in the minds of voters when the ballots arrive.
For racing fans, the reasoning behind Lukas’s decision to target the Clark really doesn’t matter. The Clark is another opportunity to watch one of the top 3-year-olds compete against older horses in a race with championship implications, and that alone will make the leftover turkey taste a little bit better on Black Friday.
WILL TAKE CHARGE (middle) EARNED A SIGNATURE WIN IN THE TRAVERS
Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire