11/29/2013 7:49PM

Churchill Downs: Will Take Charge by a head in Clark Handicap

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Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography
Will Take Charge (left) edges Game On Dude by a head in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs on Friday.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Rarely does a race actually match its buildup, but the dramatic finish to the Clark Handicap may have surpassed the hype Friday when Will Take Charge ran down Game On Dude in a sensational renewal of the Churchill Downs fall-meet signature event.

“What a Clark,” said winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas after Will Take Charge was up by a head in the final jumps of the Grade 1, $550,700 race. “You couldn’t have written a much better script than this.”

Game On Dude, the 6-5 favorite in a field of nine, had put away all pursuers with a furlong to go in the 139th running of the Clark, with only Will Take Charge and jockey Luis Saez having a realistic shot to catch him. And that he did, poking his bald nose in front just yards from the wire, capping what was a sensational second half to the 2013 season, and surely clinching Eclipse honors in the 3-year-old division.

Will Take Charge, owned by Willis Horton, returned $6.80 to win as the second choice after finishing in 1:49.39 over a fast track.

Easter Gift finished third, two lengths behind the top pair, with the late-starting Bourbon Courage, the 6-1 third choice, another 1 3/4 lengths back in fourth.

Will Take Charge was coming off a heartbreaking nose defeat to Mucho Macho Man in the Nov. 2 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita, and Lukas said he feared a similar result Friday as the finish approached.

“I told Willis we were going to need every yard,” Lukas said. “This colt never gave up. He’s really learned what it’s all about.”

Bob Baffert, the trainer of Game On Dude, chose not to make the trip to Churchill following a Thanksgiving holiday in Tennessee, but Lukas said he wished Baffert had been there because of the longstanding rivalry they have built over the past 20 years or so. Joe Torre, the retired baseball manager and one of the co-owners of Game On Dude, was among those in the paddock prior to the race.

“Bob and I have had so many great head-to-head matches over the years,” Lukas said. “This was just a great race. It’s what racing’s all about. I’m sure Bob would be enjoying it with us.”

Clearly, Game On Dude did nothing to diminish his chances for an Eclipse Award in the older horse division with his gritty effort in defeat, one that helps to partially erase the memory of his ninth-place finish as the favorite in the BC Classic.

Baffert assistant Jim Barnes said afterward: “We showed up. We got beat by a good horse. Wayne’s horse is good right now, and he’s showing it.”

Running under the lights, Game On Dude settled nicely after a sharp break from the inside post as Our Double Play and Jaguar Paw sped to the lead from the two outside posts.

Down the backstretch, jockey Mike Smith angled Game On Dude off the rail to stalk Our Double Play, a 14-1 shot who had set fractions of 23.80 seconds, 47.29, and 1:11.14, and by the quarter pole, Game On Dude, a winner of seven Grade 1 events and more than $5.6 million, had surged to the lead, with nothing but clear sailing ahead. Smith went to a punishing left-handed whip down the lane, as did Saez.

“If I could do anything over, I might have waited a little bit more,” Smith said. “But in doing that, [Will Take Charge] might have got me easier. At some point, I thought I’d want to try and put a little distance between us because we’ve all seen Game On Dude do that and destroy a field.”

Will Take Charge, a chestnut Kentucky-bred by the late Unbridled’s Song, has won six of 15 starts, with the $327,777 winner’s share lifting his career bankroll to $3,055,148. After finishing off the board in each of the three Triple Crown events, the colt really came to hand, with victories in the Grade 1 Travers and Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby preceding the BC Classic.

Horton lives in Arkansas, where Oaklawn Park is located and where early next week Lukas will be sending his entire stable, led by Will Take Charge, who will race as a 4-year-old.

After the top four, the order of finish was Jaguar Paw, Finnegans Wake, Our Double Play, Golden Ticket, and Prayer for Relief.

The $2 exacta (7-1) paid $18.60, the $1 trifecta (7-1-6) returned $60.90, and the 10-cent superfecta (7-1-6-3) was worth $17.90.

denali1 More than 1 year ago
Everytime i see this horse i am amazed. He looked beat at the 16th pole and Luis never gave up on him. The more WTC runs the better he gets. Lukas has to be having alot of fun with him. WTC is a refreshing of the old school type of horse. When is the last time a 3yr old has run a campaign like his and won consistently like he has?
Neil Granowitz More than 1 year ago
Well one thing for sure, if WTC is a length or less trailing at the sixteenth pole, your horse as well as your $$$$$$$ are in big trouble. In the last 16th he looked like a "freight train" aka Forego!!!!!
Paul Aussenhofer More than 1 year ago
I gotta love the hate that certain posters have on this site for the Dude. Put down after put down for the horse and they keep saying that the only time he faced real horses, he got beat. Yes he won every major race in Cali. But he also won a G2 in Charlestown and twice beat Ron the Greek whom several posters believe is better than the Dude. His overall record was 3 G1s and 2 G2s out of 7 starts. You don't do that by being mediocre like some are insisting. He is a very good horse. Not great (never said he was) but very good. Now for all of you that want to point to the superiority of the east coast older horses, please answer one question? Starting with the Donn and ending with the Clark, please name one horse on the east coast that won more than 1 G1 route race (mile or more) on dirt. There are none. MMM is the only other multiple G1 winner and he won them both in Cali as well. GoD is certainly not a great horse, but unfortunately NONE of the others are as well. Overall he and MMM are the best of a mediocre group. Lets hope some of the improving 3 year olds keep running. Next year will be very fun indeed. FYI. I thought it was a mistake for both the Dude and WTC to in in the Clark. Usually when you run in a race as an after thought your performance goes way down (see Princess of Sylmar). It was obvious that neither ran their "A" race and it was to their credit (or lack of ability of the competition) that they finished the way they did.
russell More than 1 year ago
Congrats to the basketball Coach. WTC had such a bizarre 3 yold season. Somehow Wayne got the light bulb turned on in this horse.
S More than 1 year ago
I just love Will take charge..Im soo Happy for him & his connections.
B More than 1 year ago
Great race, but a very disappointing year for me. Started out with Orb looking like a potential TC winner after the FOY, Florida & Ky. Derbies only to never win again & be prematurely retired. Game on Dude finally convinced me he is an excellent horse, but not a great one. HOY will go to Wise Dan for another lackluster campaign, older male will probably go to MMM though I wouldn't vote for him off of only 2 wins, older female to Royal Delta for the worst year in her career, WTC will win 3 year old male despite losing all 3 TC races by 85 lengths, 3 year old female had some consistent ones and should be a tie between Beholder and Princess of Sylmar but it won't, turf male will go to you know who since there was no competition once Point of Entry was injured, Dank will win turf female as our country couldn't produce one better, Points Offthebench should win male sprinter regardless of what Goldenscents does today as a mile is not a sprint and he has not won this year at a true sprint distance and was beaten twice by Points and I guess Groupie Doll will win female sprinter even if she loses today. I don't know and am not really interested in who wins the 2 year old awards. I haven't seen anything of great interest other than maybe Honor Code, who I hope runs well today and Sweet Reason who I hope rebounds, but neither is going to win any awards. All in all, a very disappointing year for me and today I read that now that WTC who finally convinced me he is a good one without blinkers, might not race again. Sigh.
Wesley Wright More than 1 year ago
Congratulations to the connections of WTC. He has taken charge of the 3YO division.I hope they will race him next year. I dont think he is near his best yet.
Paul Aussenhofer More than 1 year ago
It's amazing how much hate there is for ONE horse. The horse wins 5 of 7 on the year 4 G1s 2 million and all certain posters can do is bash the horse. G.O.D. ran a good race and just got beat by WTC by a head. It was a good race. WTC earned 3 yr old eclipse and was a head away from HOTY. Better horse won today. Congrats D. Wayne. But it should take nothing away from the Dude. He ran good and had a good year, overall equal to any other older dirt/synth horse in training. As I have posted B4, there are no great horses in training now. Any of the truly greats would have dominated these horses. But stop hating y'all.
Susan Huart More than 1 year ago
Congrats Bug Guy, and to all the connections of WTC.
Craig More than 1 year ago
WTC and Dude both fired 4 weeks after the BC.Where are all whiners complaining it was too soon to run back after such a grueling year.These are REAL racehorses, that's what they do race.Wise Dan is soft and doesn't face top horses race in and race out.A whisker and WTC is HOY and Danny Boy could be training for his next Grade 3 in obscurity.
Diana Levy More than 1 year ago
It's more than a whisker that keeps WTC from HOY. He was good in winter when he won the Southwest and Rebel and very good in the late summer/fall. But his spring/early summer keeps his yearlong campaign from being comparable in consistency to Wise Dan. You can blame the connections of both horses for the shortcomings of those campaigns. One for being run when he shouldn't have (WTC) and one for NOT running where he should have (WD). But to disparage Wise Dan, who sets track records at an advanced age in GR1 races ( 4 of which he won in 2013 compared to 2 for WTC) as a way to promote your obvious favorite is not a way to make your case.