09/25/2013 3:14PM

Dick Jerardi: Will Take Charge is all grown up now

Barbara D. Livingston
Will Take Charge show terrific acceleration in charging up the rail to win the Pennsylvania Derby.

I had never seen Will Take Charge up close until he walked off a van on the Parx backstretch last Thursday morning. When I saw him in the flesh, I understood what Wayne Lukas, the former high school basketball coach, had told me two days before: “He’s like the freshman basketball player that you know is going to be 6-11. You better work with him because he’s going to be the one when he is a senior.’’

By the time Will Take Charge left the Lukas barn at Saratoga that morning, it was just the horse, three people, and the incessant buzzing of 10 Lukas phone calls per day. While Lukas was attending to the rest of his stable at Churchill Downs, Will Take Charge was waiting to make the trip south for the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby.

The massive son of Unbridled’s Song is all grown up now. The half-brother to 2012 Florida Derby winner Take Charge Indy is a serious race horse.

This is no longer the grinder that won the Travers in the last stride. Cue up the Pa. Derby replay from the top of the stretch. When Luis Saez steered Will Take Charge to the rail and asked him for run, the horse nearly pulled the jockey out of the saddle. He went from fifth to first in about 50 yards. It was serious acceleration.

I do not think Will Take Charge is going to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic unless there is a total pace meltdown. I do think this horse has gotten dramatically better and could get better still. I learned a valuable lesson a few years ago when Lookin At Lucky was in against Blame and Zenyatta in the 2010 Classic.

The Preakness winner had a great summer and fall. He was getting better with each race. But the figures said he could not win. The older horses were just too fast and Zenyatta was, well, Zenyatta.

Lookin At Lucky ran heroically and never looked like a winner. I think Will Take Charge will run a terrific race at Santa Anita, but my guess is that his best simply won’t be good enough. There are some really fast older horses out there.

There were some really fast horses at Parx last Saturday on the best day of racing in the 40-year-history of the racetrack. That the two $1 million races were won by horses trained by Hall of Famers only added to a glorious day of racing.

When Mike Smith sensed a slow pace in the Cotillion, he put Close Hatches right into the race on the backstretch. That outside/early move trip was not likely to lead to her top performance, but it was going to give her the best chance to win that race, as frontrunner Sweet Lulu really looked like the only competition.

It was no surprise that trainer Bill Mott had Close Hatches ready after 90 days away from the races. She was the best filly entering the race and ran like it.

My guess is that she will run even better with a faster pace in front of her. Combine that with the fact that the rail trip was generally the winning trip at Parx on Saturday and you have to think Close Hatches has some more big ones in her.

I suspect that rail run in the stretch helped Will Take Charge a bit, but the colt had been outside until then. A rail-skimming 14-1 shot finished second in one of the earlier races. There was a rail/rail 9-1 over 3-1 exacta. A 5-1 making an inside move won another race. And City of Weston, a 30-1 shot with no chance on paper, rode the rail on the turn and then dove to the rail late to win the Gallant Bob. You could certainly make a case that the rail was an edge Saturday at Parx.

What you could not make a case for was one of the most perplexing 5-2 shots of 2013. As I was watching the odds board in the minutes before the Pa. Derby, I really could not believe it. The 1-2 horses in the Travers, Will Take Charge and Moreno, were the third and second choices respectively.

The favorite was the Godolphin entry of Transparent and Romansh, two horses whose major accomplishments were finishing 1-2 in the Curlin Stakes and having the order reversed by the stewards. In what world should they be favored?

Late money got Will Take Charge down to 2.30-1 while the entry went off at 5-2 and Moreno at 3-1. The Travers 1-2 ran 1-2 again, only this was never in doubt in the final 200 yards. Transparent finished fourth, Romansh sixth. Strange.

There was nothing strange about Will Take Charge. D. Wayne was right. The colt is now a senior and the star of the team.

By the way, what about D. Wayne? The man has won 22 races all year, but they include the Preakness, Travers, Hopeful, Pennsylvania Derby, Smarty Jones, Rebel, and Lecomte. He won three races at the Saratoga meet, but two were the Travers and Hopeful. What if Will Take Charge wins the Classic? Can a trainer win, say, 25 races all year and the Eclipse Award?