01/08/2014 12:00AM

2013 Eclipse Awards: Will Take Charge

photo by: Barbara D. Livingston

Will Take Charge was good in the spring, and very, very good in the fall, putting bookends on an ambitious 2013 campaign that has made him the favorite to be named champion 3-year-old male, despite a Triple Crown of discontent, when he was soundly beaten in all three legs.

But Will Take Charge was proof positive that while there is life before the Triple Crown, there’s still plenty of life afterward, especially for a big, hearty, robust colt who got better as the year progressed, indeed thrived with more activity.

Had it not been for a heartbreaking defeat in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, his first start against older horses, Will Take Charge would have finished the year with four consecutive stakes wins, three in Grade 1 races. As it was, he won five races during the year, four graded stakes and two Grade 1 races, including the prestigious Travers Stakes at Saratoga. He ended the season with a victory over the multiple Grade 1-winning older horse Game On Dude in the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs.

He was no hothouse flower. Will Take Charge ran at seven different tracks in an 11-race campaign that began in January and continued through the end of November.

Will Take Charge, trained by D. Wayne Lukas, began the year at Oaklawn Park, where he ran three times, his meet a microcosm of what was to unfold the rest of the year. He put bookends on the meet with victories in the Smarty Jones and Grade 2 Rebel, but was never a factor in Grade 3 Southwest.

Lukas elected to pass the Arkansas Derby and bring Will Take Charge into the Kentucky Derby off an extended layoff. Will Take Charge finished eighth in the 19-horse Derby field, but ran into significant traffic trouble at the top of the stretch, costing him a better final placing, though no one was beating Orb on the day.

Will Take Charge was less effective in the Preakness, finishing seventh of nine behind Lukas-trained stablemate Oxbow, and then the Belmont, when he was 10th of 14.

Up to that point, Will Take Charge had worn blinkers in all his starts as a 3-year-old. Whether it was the removal of blinkers, the invigorating atmosphere of Saratoga, natural maturity – or, most likely, all three – Will Take Charge quickly blossomed in the summer.

He was a sharp second in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy behind Palace Malice, the Belmont winner, then avenged that loss and captured the first Grade 1 of his career with a thrilling nose victory over Moreno in the Travers, his first start under jockey Luis Saez.

A week later, Saez was accused by Eric Guillot, the trainer of Moreno, of using an electrical device on Will Take Charge in the Travers. After an exhaustive five-week investigation, the New York State Gaming Commission released a report that called the charge “wholly unsubstantiated.”

Will Take Charge four weeks later again defeated Moreno, this time in the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby, then headed west to Santa Anita for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Will Take Charge made a sustained rally in the stretch and just did lose a head bob to Mucho Macho Man in a terrific performance.

He wasn’t done. In the Clark, at 1 1/8 miles a furlong shorter than the Classic, Will Take Charge had to run down Game On Dude, who had opened a 2 1/2-length lead with an eighth of a mile to go.

Will Take Charge, a chestnut colt by Unbridled’s Song out of the Dehere mare Take Charge Lady, was bred by Eaton in Kentucky and was sold to owner Willis Horton for $425,000 at Keeneland in September 2011. Horton in December said that Will Take Charge would race as a 4-year-old. He is currently at Oaklawn Park, preparing for his 2014 debut.