Will Take Charge (outside) narrowly edged Game On Dude in the closing strides of the Clark Handicap on Friday at Churchill Downs. (Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire)
The victory most likely cemented an Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male for Will Take Charge, who now has two Grade 1 wins, two Grade 2 wins and a Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up finish on his 2013 résumé. Trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, the Unbridled’s Song colt also at least put himself in the discussion for Horse of the Year with Friday’s victory.
“I thought maybe it was his best race of the year, frankly, even though the Breeders’ Cup [Classic] was sensational,” Lukas said. “On this particular surface going an eighth of a mile shorter I think he showed his versatility pretty good today.
“He’s gotten the idea now. He’s a classy horse and he’s gotten the idea of getting up [to win]. He seems to know where the wire is. The last four strides you could see he really … I don’t know what (the strides) measured but they were long.”
The Clark was Will Take Charge’s 11th start of 2013 for Lukas and owner Willis Horton. After winning the Smarty Jones Stakes and the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes in the first half of the year, Will Take Charge failed to place in any of the three U.S. Triple Crown races. He made up for that in the second half of the year.
Will Take Charge broke through with a nose win in the $1 million Travers Stakes in August that gave him his first Grade 1 win and followed with another win in a $1 million race when he prevailed in the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby.
A determined runner-up to Mucho Macho Man in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Will Take Charge picked up a key Grade 1 win against older opponents in the Clark, a victory that very likely earned him the Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male in what was a wide-open division this year. He completed the 1 1/8-mile Clark in 1:49.39 under Luis Saez.
Will Take Charge is a half-brother (same dam [mother], different sire [father]) to 2012 Florida Derby winner Take Charge Indy. He has earned $2,960,148 this season for Horton, who purchased him for $425,000 at the 2011 Keeneland September yearling sale.
Game On Dude looked like a sure winner early in the stretch when he opened up a clear lead under Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith. He just could not hold off the powerfull ate charge of the victor.
"The plan was going great ’til the last jump," said Game On Dude's Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. "I thought at the eighth pole he was home free, but that stretch is so long, you know? But he ran his race and he showed up. We just got beat.
"Will Take Charge – he’s just getting really good, that horse. Wow! He just gets rolling there. That horse, he’s got to be considered seriously for Horse of the Year, because that was pretty impressive. The Dude, he ran his race. He brought his ‘A’ game today, and Will Take Charge still got us. So that’s pretty impressive."
For Game On Dude, a second by a head probably did not bolster his chances at the Eclipse Award as champion older male. He already had amassed solid credentials by sweeping the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup and Pacific Classic Stakes, the three premier Southern California Grade 1 races. The big question is how much Eclipse Award voters will hold his ninth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic against him.
Classic winner Mucho Macho Man has a very strong case as well and it could be an interesting race (between voters) for the older male championship.
For an Equibase chart, click here.
WILL TAKE CHARGE (left) EDGED GAME ON DUDE IN CLARK
Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography