11/20/2013 3:56PM

Dick Jerardi: Fine line separates Orb, Will Take Charge

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Barbara D. Livingston
Orb was brilliant early in the season, but winless after the Kentucky Derby.

I have been reading a lot of what has been written about the 3-year-old championship. It is a fascinating subject with no obvious correct answer.

With Horse of the Year decided in favor of Wise Dan again, the 3-year-old title, our second most important, becomes an even bigger deal. It really comes down to how you interpret the evidence. For the purposes of this discussion, it is an either/or. If you want to include horses beyond Orb and Will Take Charge, feel free. I just don’t want to complicate this any more than necessary.

Will the voters look at the entire year and try to put it into context or will they mostly remember the ending?

Orb had a sensational 13 weeks from late January to the first Saturday in May – optional claimer, Fountain of Youth, Florida Derby, Kentucky Derby. That’s a season these days. If Orb had won any of the other four races he entered, we would not be having this discussion. Orb would win the championship easily. But he did not win any of them and was a factor only in the Travers.

Will Take Charge has one of the more curious r é sum é s ever. He was pretty good early in the year, with wins in the Smarty Jones and Rebel, awful in the Triple Crown series when he was beaten by a combined 45 1/4 lengths, and then sensational from late July to early November with a close second in the Jim Dandy, wins in the Travers and Pennsylvania Derby, and a brilliant second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. If Will Take Charge had won the Classic, we are not having this discussion.

I really don’t care about Grade 1, Grade 2, or any of that stuff. I want to know who did you beat, how fast did you run, and did you run winning races even in defeat.

If winning was all that mattered, why do they pay for second? Horse racing often does not reward the best horse with the most money. It is the nature of the game when almost all of the races are decided in less than two minutes and what happens during the race sometimes has more to do with the outcome than the relative talents of the horses. Does anybody really think Smarty Jones was not the best horse in the 2004 Belmont Stakes?

Orb was not very good in the Preakness or Belmont, but he was not awful, finishing fourth and then third. He was a close third behind Will Take Charge in the Travers and a what-is-wrong-with-this-horse last in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, clearly a race that deserves a line through it.

I am with anybody who says the Kentucky Derby matters way more than anything else. It always has. And it should.

This Derby, however, has me wavering. Certainly, you can’t call Orb’s win a fluke. He was the favorite and had the best 2013 r é sum é prior to the race. But the pace obviously impacted the result.

The first five all came from the back. None ever won another race. Normandy Invasion never ran again.

Four of the pace horses – Oxbow, Palace Malice, Verrazano, and Goldencents – won the Preakness, Belmont, Jim Dandy, Haskell, and Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.

Still, it was the Derby, a race that is absolutely worth extra credit.

Will Take Charge was terrible in the most important races for 3-year-olds. For a horse who has won $2.7 million and was a nose from a whole lot more, he has some brutal races on his r é sum é . Five of his losses have been by a total of 88 3/4 lengths.

Was it just the blinkers coming off after the Triple Crown or, as Wayne Lukas says, just a big horse growing up? Given that Will Take Charge has those wins at Oaklawn Park, I am with Wayne. This was always a colt with talent. It just didn’t all come out until the summer.

Will Take Charge’s last four Beyers were 105, 107, 104, and 112. He went from grinder to a horse with a move. He went from unpredictable to consistent and fast and fun to watch.

Orb got two triple-digit Beyers, 104 in the Derby and 106 in the Travers. I think we all felt like there was more there after the Derby, but we never saw it.

Given the recent poll results, it certainly appears that Will Take Charge will get the championship. I don’t think the evidence is that clear cut, but last impressio ns always matter most.