01/06/2015 2:37PM

2014 Eclipse Awards: Take Charge Brandi

Debbie Roma

She danced almost every dance at six different racetracks from coast to coast. She was very much the embodiment of the philosophy that trainer D. Wayne Lukas has demonstrated for four decades – that racehorses are meant to race. And the combination of her innate ability and Lukas’s faith in her enabled Take Charge Brandi to mount a late-season charge that made her the heavy favorite to win an Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old filly.

Take Charge Brandi might have been one of the last horses one would have expected on the morning of Breeders’ Cup Saturday to become a finalist for an Eclipse Award, but that doesn’t mean she came out of absolutely nowhere. She impressed more than a few with her debut victory at Churchill Downs in June.

Take Charge Brandi finished second in Saratoga’s Schuylerville Stakes in her second start to the Todd Pletcher-trained Fashion Alert. Pletcher, one of many former Lukas assistants who have gone on to stardom, said after the race, “I know that Wayne likes his filly a lot.”

But after subsequent off-the-board finishes in the Adirondack, Pocahontas, and Alcibiades stakes, Take Charge Brandi was not a prominent player going into the Breeders’ Cup. In fact, the Willis Horton-owned Kentucky-bred by Giant’s Causeway was, at 61-1, the longest shot of the 12 who contested the Juvenile Fillies.

But Take Charge Brandi outperformed her odds in a huge way, going right to the front, setting a fast pace, and prevailing with unwavering determination. In the process, Take Charge Brandi provided Lukas with his 20th Breeders’ Cup victory, the most by a trainer in the event’s history.

Lukas attributed Take Charge Brandi’s upset of the Juvenile Fillies to a new approach of getting out of her way and letting her do her thing as a pace player.

“We got a little too confident in the summer,” Lukas told Daily Racing Form in December. “I woke up one day, and I said, ‘I think I’ll just leave her alone.’ ”

It worked like a charm at Santa Anita. But for Take Charge Brandi to be considered a true Eclipse Award contender, she needed to come back and prove that her Breeders’ Cup surprise was no fluke. Lukas knew that, too.

“We have ambitions to put her in the mix for champion 2-year-old filly,” Lukas said a few weeks after the Breeders’ Cup. “So, we think if we come back with another nice effort, that would enhance that possibility.”

Sure enough, Take Charge Brandi made herself the one to beat for her divisional title when she won the Grade 3 Delta Downs Princess three weeks after the Breeders’ Cup.

“For championship honors, I think she’s done enough,” Lukas said after the Princess.

Nevertheless, Lukas planned to bring Take Charge Brandi back for one more 2014 start in the Starlet at Los Alamitos.

“She’s very good right now,” Lukas told DRF. “The purse is attractive, and it’s a Grade 1. I think when Grade 1s are sitting there and you think you can win 'em, you ought to take advantage of them.”

And Take Charge Brandi did just that, winning the Starlet to put a bow on top of her campaign.

Take Charge Brandi was a $435,000 yearling purchase at the 2013 Keeneland September sale and was bred in Kentucky by Charming Syndicate. She is out of the Seeking the Gold mare Charming, a half-sister to Will Take Charge, who also raced for Horton and was the 2013 Eclipse Award-winning 3-year-old male.