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Courageous Julie

Courageous Julie

Will Take Charge

Ireland, the full sister to Hopeful Stakes (I) winner Dublin

Ireland, the full sister to Hopeful Stakes (I) winner Dublin

Breeders’ Cup Classic Profile #6: Will Take Charge



(Unbridled’s Song x Take Charge Lady, by Dehere)

  • Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas
  • Jockey: Luis Saez
  • Owned by: Eaton
  • Career Record: 13:5-2-1
  • Earnings: $1,827,371

Vital Stats:

  • 2013 Record: 9:4-1-0
  • 2013 accomplishments: G1 winner at 10 furlongs (Travers Stakes)
  • Santa Anita record: 0:0-0-0
  • TrueNicks rating: N/A
  • Dosage Index: 3.33
  • Highest Equibase Speed Figure of 2013: 114 (unchanged from last year)
  • Won last prep [1st, Pennsylvania Derby, by 2 1/4 lengths]
  • Aims to be the first 3-year-old to win the Classic since Raven’s Pass in 2008

Summary: It seemed almost too easy to dismiss Will Take Charge as a competitive horse, even after narrowly defeating stablemate and eventual Preakness winner Oxbow in the G2 Rebel Stakes in the spring. Unbridled’s Song progeny are traditionally “early bird” talents, and the big hunky chestnut was taking a while to find his stride as well as his class. But, he was a true late bloomer for his late sire, who is having an impeccable year of big winners, grabbing the Travers Stakes and then the Pennsylvania Derby in a way that suggested he was going to keep on getting better with age.

Prep Schedule: Like many Lukas horses, Will Take Charge has raced unfettered every month. Forwardly-placed and wide as a barrel the whole race, Will Take Charge took control in his first start as a three-year-old, winning the Smarty Jones Stakes at a mile, defeating Texas Bling by a neck. He hung around the back of the field upon stepping up in class— the Southwest Stakes (II) for three-year-olds— until late, where he passed a few horses to finish a distant 6th. In March, he showed his game sneaking up to stablemate Oxbow to win the Rebel (II) by a nose to prove himself a contender. However, he was pinched back and well-beaten, racing 8th in the Kentucky Derby (I). Hoping it was just a minor glitch due to mud and field size, he was entered back in the Preakness (I), where he showed little ambition to finish 7th. Even less ambitiously, the added ground of the Belmont (I) did not help, and he finished 10th after going a bit wide and had a bumpy break. He was a seemingly new horse by the end of July, however, reigniting late to just miss the Jim Dandy (II) to Palace Malice by just a length. Reinvigorated, he made a similar late rush from off-the-pace again in the Travers (I), winning that 10-furlong beast by a head over Moreno. Again facing Moreno and others in the Pennsylvania Derby (II), he seemed to improve using the same strategy, this time winning by 2 1/4 lengths.


Physique: Very chunky and heavyset, paired with the chrome WTC reminds me of a Clydesdale rather than a Thoroughbred. He’s a smooth and relaxed sort of mover as I observed and liked leading up to the Belmont, and doesn’t look like he’s regressed at all physically. Big muscle equals big powerful movements, the key to his late kick.

Pedigree: Unbridled’s Song is a hot sire for distances both short and long, and he has been particularly razor-hot this year with WTC, Graydar, Cross Traffic, and others winning big races. Take Charge Lady needs little intro as well as a G1 winning distance mare and the dam of G1 Florida Derby winner Take Charge Indy. Inbreeding up close is light with two crosses to Fappiano, who has been a super influence among graded winners as of late.

Running Style: Mid-pack stretch runner

Pros: He just keeps getting better and better as a late-blooming horse, and the taxing Lukas style campaign has appeared to improved him rather than tired him. He is probably the smartest and smarmiest of the three-year-old entries and features the most upside as an improver who won’t get sucked into the fast pace. Oh did I mention he has run pretty well no matter where he’s shipped?

Cons: He has yet to have that defining race that keys him as a top three-year-old, never mind a top Classic contender. This will be his first start against older horses, and in the Travers he defeated many questionable horses— ability and fitness-wise— and wasn’t resolutely challenged by anything new in the PA Derby.

Final Word: His pedigree is top-notch. He’s on the improve. He’ll be sitting off what will likely be a boiling pace to pounce late. Dare I say, I like Will Take Charge the best of the three-year-olds, but I’m still on the fence as to whether or not he has enough to win.

Derby Dozen #12: Oxbow

(Awesome Again x Tizamazing, by Cee’s Tizzy)

  • Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas (Optimizer, Gulch, Charismatic)
  • Jockey: Gary Stevens (First Derby since 2003 6th place with Buddy Gil)
  • Owned by: Calumet Farm
  • Record: 9:2-1-1
  • Earnings: $383,500
  • Best speed figures: 95 Beyer, 110 Equibase

Background: A member of my watch list since his CashCall (I) race, Oxbow lit up the board and hopes for a resurgence of classic D. Wayne Lukas and Calumet victory passes upon winning the Lecomte (III) earlier this year. Given a harsh blow of bad luck time after time with repeatedly bad outer posts in his prep races, Oxbow is doing as he has done all year— just hanging in there to make the Derby gate.

Prep Schedule: It took him 4 tries to do it, but Oxbow broke his maiden in a 7-furlong event at none other than Churchill Downs as a two-year-old, then shipped out west to run a decent 4th in the CashCall (I) on polytrack. Bouncing back in 4 weeks’ time, he wired the Lecomte (III) going 1 1/16 miles, winning by an impressive 11 1/4 lengths. Assigned the outside 10 stall, he ran a wide but determined 4th next out in the messy Risen Star (II), losing by a half-length. Next, he ran an unexpected second-fiddle to stablemate Will Take Charge, who nipped him at the wire after Oxbow gained the lead in the stretch of the 1 1/16 mile race. In his final prep in the 9-furlong Arkansas Derby (I) and first time under Gary Stevens, he ran at the back of the tightly-knit group and made steady progress late to be 5th, losing by 5 1/4 lengths.

Pedigree: As I detailed in a prior post, Oxbow has some big shoes to fill that he may not start growing into right away. By Breeders’ Cup Classic winner (and sire of one) Awesome Again, he is automatically advantaged to get the 10-furlong distance, and even more so being out of a full sister to two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow. The Awesome Again and Tiznow families have spawned many G1 winners at 9 furlongs and beyond, and when crossed, have produced names like the unforgettable Paynter, who flashed extreme ability at the classic distance. Inbreeding-wise, Oxbow carries 3 traces up close to Northern Dancer.

Estimated TrueNicks Rating: A++ Variant 33.70

Running Style: Midpack, off-the-pace

Pros: A horse who sticks up front and fights it out at the end, Oxbow has been looking good in his recent works and should keep on making progress while others regress at 10 furlongs.

Cons: He appeared to regress in the Arkansas Derby (I) last out, and he has yet to have a more than a month-long break between races since he first started running.

Final Word: Oxbow was a horse full of potential at the beginning of the year, and while he still has something to offer, I think he has more than completed his form cycle. Add to this, most Awesome Agains do not really hit their best stride until later on (Game On Dude missed the Derby and was 4th in the Belmont, Paynter made the Belmont, Ghostzapper didn’t make a stakes start until the King’s Bishop). Watch for him later, not now.

I heard you like D. Wayne Lukas entries, so we put one on top of the other so you can Lukas while you Lukas… okay, I’m not good with this meme. Will Take Charge overpowered stablemate Oxbow in the Rebel Stakes (II). (Photo by Coady Photography)

I heard you like D. Wayne Lukas entries, so we put one on top of the other so you can Lukas while you Lukas… okay, I’m not good with this meme. Will Take Charge overpowered stablemate Oxbow in the Rebel Stakes (II). (Photo by Coady Photography)

Even greatness has small beginnings: Charismatic

Derby Watch: Paynter’s Kin

It’s hard not to love Paynter after his dramatic yet brief three-year-old campaign that concluded with an emphatic G1 win in the Haskell Invitational. It’s even harder to not associate good feels with the bay colt after a winning battle with multiple ailments that left him at death’s door for a stretch of time. With the son of Awesome Again slowly returning to full health, there is few greater joys than seeing his younger relations do well for themselves on the Derby trail.

Experiencing mild success this year with Optimizer, Hamazing Destiny, Hightail, and a few others, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas has had some on-and-off success training, but looks to have a solid performer in Paynter’s 3/4 brother Oxbow. A bay son of Awesome Again out of the Cee’s Tizzy mare Tizamazing (who is also a full sister to dual-Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow and Paynter’s dam Tizso), he broke well from the far outside to win his 7-furlong maiden special weight over the weekend at Churchill Downs.

Favored in the betting, Oxbow did not have a favorable beginning in racing, being pulled up and vanned off the Saratoga main in his dead-last debut against speed demon Jocosity. No harm done, however, when all things are considered: Paynter never made a start as a two-year-old, never mind 4 races with a win and a third. Oxbow is obviously doing something right after being suddenly favored in the Churchill race after racing third to Gulfport in his prior start at nearly 17-1, and his works suggest he’ll be even quicker as a three-year-old.

Also making 4 starts is Paynter’s cousin (by Speightstown out of Tizsweet, another full to Paynter’s dam) is Tizexx, a two-year-old gray/roan trainee of Bobby Barnett who also ran this past Saturday. She raced three-wide on the Churchill main to tire in the stretch of the 7-furlong maiden race to finish 5th holding her own. She has flashed ample speed in her workouts— she went :47 2/5 in her last 4-panel hum— so this is another one I think will require some time.

Paynter’s full brother racing this year named Fire Flight, will definitely be needing additional time, and I’m not even sure he was ready for his debut going by his short list of published works. Helmed by Keith Asmussen, he was towards the back of a Retama maiden early and dragged his heels upon feeling the stick, losing by some 10 lengths back in 9th.

If lightning can’t strike twice in the same family, I guess we can always wait on Paynter’s highly-anticipated return.

Take Charge Indy fans will probably be looking for this one to make progress: Will Take Charge (Unbridled’s Song x Take Charge Lady) as a yearling at Keeneland September. His Saratoga debut landed him a 5th with Joel Rosario up and D. Wayne Lukas as trainer.

Take Charge Indy fans will probably be looking for this one to make progress: Will Take Charge (Unbridled’s Song x Take Charge Lady) as a yearling at Keeneland September. His Saratoga debut landed him a 5th with Joel Rosario up and D. Wayne Lukas as trainer.

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Tracks visited: Calder, Saratoga, Belmont, Suffolk, Aqueduct.

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