11/30/2013 11:22AM

Churchill Downs: Owner hoping to race Will Take Charge in 2014

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Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography
Owner Willis Horton leads Will Take Charge following his victory in Friday's Grade 1 Clark Handicap.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Owner Willis Horton said he very much wants to run Will Take Charge next year as a 4-year-old and that his ideal scenario is a deal with a breeding farm allowing that to happen.

Horton, who has been heavily wooed by several prominent farms to sell Will Take Charge for future stud purposes, said he would like to settle the issue this week, with him retaining at least a minority share while getting to campaign the colt for another year.

“I can’t sleep at night with this deal going on,” said Horton, a 73-year-old retired businessman who lives in Marshall, Ark. “I just want it over with. I hope I could keep part of him and get to run him next year. That’s my plan.”

With his dramatic victory over Game On Dude in the Clark Handicap on Friday at Churchill Downs, Will Take Charge all but clinched the 2013 Eclipse Award for top 3-year-old while also perhaps putting his name into a Horse of the Year debate that has been widely conceded to Wise Dan.

Getting three pounds (126-123) from highweighted Game On Dude – which is the standard concession from older horses to 3-year-olds in the fall – Will Take Charge was up in the desperate final jumps to take the Grade 1 Clark by a head. The Unbridled’s Song colt has earned more than $3 million.

Will Take Charge, who earned a 101 Beyer Speed Figure in the Clark, will head to Oaklawn Park in Arkansas early this week with the rest of the D. Wayne Lukas stable. The victory capped a terrific comeback year for Lukas, the 78-year-old Hall of Fame trainer whose other major winners this year included Oxbow, Strong Mandate, and Optimizer.

Will Take Charge struggled in the Triple Crown series, finishing eighth in the Kentucky Derby with a very troubled trip, followed by a seventh in the Preakness and 10th in the Belmont Stakes. Clearly, Lukas’s faith in – and perseverance with – the colt was vindicated for a final time in 2013 with the sensational Clark finish.

“I’ll go to my grave believing that we could have won the Kentucky Derby,” Lukas said. “After that, it set him back a little – that little trip in the Derby didn’t equate very good to the Preakness and the Belmont, which came up bang-bang. But then we had a little time to get him right again. With all due respect [to Orb and his connections], I’d like to run the Kentucky Derby over again.”

Lukas said all major races in 2014 will be taken under consideration for Will Take Charge, including the $10 million Dubai World Cup in late March, assuming the colt is not retired to stud.

Moquett heading to Oaklawn

In the spring, trainer Ron Moquett was a happy camper when sending out stakes-proven horses such as Gentlemen’s Bet, Right to Vote, and Livi Makenzie for victories at Churchill (where he was 8 for 39) while also winning multiple races at Prairie Meadows and Indiana Downs.

Heading into Saturday, the last of 25 days at the Churchill fall meet, Moquett was just 1 for 34, with 5 seconds and 4 thirds, and with all but a few of his horses already having departed for Oaklawn.

“We’re regrouping in Hot Springs and hoping to have a big winter there,” Moquett said. “We’re not in this game for the win pictures; we want to get the most out of our horses, and that means sometimes your win percentage will suffer. This meet we’d drop a horse from $20,000 to $15,000 and get beat by somebody dropping from $40,000 to $15,000. A lot of that seemed to be happening, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes.”

Moquett said he had no particular race in mind for Gentlemen’s Bet, the speedy colt who was briefly considered for the Cigar Mile after finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.