11/05/2013 1:53PM

Dick Jerardi: Will Take Charge gives Pennsylvania Derby's prestige a boost

Barbara D. Livingston
Will Take Charge (left), second by a nose in the Breeders' Cup Classic, may help convince the American Graded Stakes Committee to upgrade the Pennsylvania Derby to Grade 1 status.

When Parx Racing management moved the Pennsylvania Derby from Labor Day to the third Saturday in September, they really had three goals. One was to attract the Travers winner. Second, they wanted to give stakes-caliber 3-year-olds a last chance to run against their own age. Third, they wanted their race to be six weeks from the Breeders’ Cup so it could act as a final prep.

Well, they hit the trifecta this year and nearly got the Pennsylvania Derby winner home in the Classic.

Will Take Charge won the Travers and came to Parx. He won the Pennsylvania Derby. He waited six weeks for the Breeders’ Cup and nearly won the Classic, falling a nose short of catching Mucho Macho Man.

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Now, as an added bonus, the Pennsylvania Derby winner is almost certainly going to be voted 3-year-old champion. That could help bump the $1 million race from a Grade 2 to a Grade 1. Will Take Charge’s Classic run is certainly great advertisement.

After the colt was beaten up so badly in the Triple Crown races, trainer D. Wayne Lukas did not get discouraged. Does he ever?

Will Take Charge has a fascinating, if unorthodox, résumé. He won the Smarty Jones, Rebel, Travers, and Pennsylvania Derby. He was second in the Jim Dandy and Classic. In the three Triple Crown races and the Southwest, he was beaten by a combined 63 1/4 lengths.

Bottom line, the colt got really good in the summer, stayed good, and then got better.

“He’s really developed into a beautiful horse,” Lukas said.

Will Take Charge nearly did a Travers again in the Classic. It looked hopeless and then . . .

“I realize the ups and downs of it better than probably most, but those are hard to take,” Lukas said. “This is the ultimate. Other than the Derby, this is the one you want.”

Close Hatches won the Cotillion at Parx just before the Pennsylvania Derby. That she ran a solid second to the brilliant Beholder in the BC Distaff also has to solidify the day with a pair of $1 million races that Parx began in 2012.

By the way, the third big stakes that day at Parx, the Gallant Bob, has already produced two stakes winners, after last year’s runner-up Trinniberg went to Santa Anita to win the BC Sprint.

Clearly Now was second and Zeewat fourth in the 2013 Gallant Bob. What they had in common was that they both raced very wide on a day when the best part of the track was the inside. Clearly Now’s 92 Beyer Speed Figure in the Gallant Bob became a 109 when he blew away the field in the Bold Ruler at Belmont Park. Zeewat’s 89 became a 96 when he upset 1-5 Flashback to win the Damascus on Saturday’s card at Santa Anita.

Penn National began its Penn Mile Day this year. While the Mile itself did not have a BC impact this year, one of the supporting features, the Governor’s Cup, certainly did.

Tightend Touchdown ran about as fast as horses can run on Penn Mile Day when he crushed the Governor’s Cup field at five furlongs on the grass and got a 107 Beyer.

Knowing that East Coast grass dash specialists have come undone on the Santa Anita course, getting confused on the hill and lost on the bends, trainer Jason Servis sent his star west anyway. He was rewarded with an absolutely brilliant performance.

Tightend Touchdown chased the insanely fast Reneesgotzip and never stopped trying. He could not withstand the unbeatable on that course Mizdirection, but caught Reneesgotzip at the wire to dead heat for second.

“I’m very, very happy,” Servis said. “From what I saw, he had a great trip. I’ll settle for the dead heat. This is even better than I first thought. This is a dream come true. I can see how people get hooked on this.’’

The 2013 Charles Town connections to this Cup did not fare so well. Charles Town Classic winner Game On Dude was called “one dimensional” by trainer Bob Baffert. It is some dimension most of the time, but the Dude can’t stand too much early heat as he showed again in the Classic. Dance to Bristol, winner of the Sugar Maple right before the Charles Town Classic, had been first or second in 18 of 19 starts before running far off her best form in the Filly and Mare Sprint.

Now, Laurel Park officials just have to convince King Leatherbury to give Ben’s Cat a go at the Turf Sprint next year. If Tightend Touchdown can perform so well, Ben’s Cat obviously could win it. King can send him up to Michael Dickinson’s Tapeta Farm to train on the inclines. If Ben gets on the straight at Santa Anita and he is within two lengths of the lead, I say he wins.

Todd Czel More than 1 year ago
sweet still casnt find the photo of b c claccic any one seen it
Holybull More than 1 year ago
Will Take Charge has surely blossomed into a very nice colt. But to make the Pennsylvania Derby a grade will take much more than just one horse.
John More than 1 year ago
If you look in the Racing Form, the day they took BLINKERS OFF Will Take Charge his Beyers and speed ratings went through the roof ! I wonder who said, "lets take the blinders off ".....................they should be getting the credit ! If Lukas is smart, who some question, he will find his way back to Santa Anita early next season and adapt to the track and win a couple of the minor races leading up to another Breeders Cup.
John More than 1 year ago
For me this is a handicappers dream, just after Breeders Cup. All these Breeders Cup horses that were primed and ready to run Breeders Cup day, are now being eased up on, turned out and given a break, the right thing to do ! The ones who think they can sneak into a race and steal a big pot usually find a sharper local horse waiting in the wings. Betting against BC runners is a money making angle, I love it !
dameian ramsay More than 1 year ago
Game on dude has no heart when he can't get the lead and in the clear vof other horses. They need to start shipping him so he can run against east coast horses in the big g one races on the east coast
Horse Cents More than 1 year ago
Your first sentence is exactly why the second sentence will never happen.
Albert More than 1 year ago
I'll say it again but for the last time. Game on Dude doesn't need to have the lead, he needs a soft field. He is not as fast as the horses that beat him in the Classic the last two years. His speed numbers are deceptive in comparison to them because MOST of his best numbers were achieved without ground loss. That is not true of others such as Mucho Macho. They lost ground in most of their races. The adjustments are small but meaningful. Dude was not on any of my tickets, horizontal or vertical, in the past two years as a result. For comparison, in their best races Last Gunfighter and Paynter both had 120 points in my scale; Mucho had 118; Will Take Charge 116 and Dude only 115. There were a couple of others who were also faster than Dude. Finishing 9th FIGURED.
dameian ramsay More than 1 year ago
I didn't have dude on none of tickets. Bejarano messed up my tri super and hi5 when hetook that horrible turn at the top of tthe stretch turning for home
Ian GW More than 1 year ago
Close Hatches and WTC two horses I have been playing since their Maiden wins. I new both had talent and would show it as they developed and matured, especially WTC being by U.Song.
Kevin More than 1 year ago
And his grade1 winning mother
Blaine MacMillan More than 1 year ago
Amazing how a horse who could do no better than 6th in all 3 of our signature TC races is the leading candidate for 3YO champion......Wow.....
Jimmy Kangaroo More than 1 year ago
He would have hit the board, if not won the KY Derby if Oxbow would not have faltered directly in front of him. I got on the bandwagon there and have been paid handsomely for it
Diana Levy More than 1 year ago
Verrazano screwed him up, not Oxbow
Perl More than 1 year ago
It was fun to watch Will Take Charge develop throughout the year. He is an impressive colt but man if he were just a bit handier he may have won both the Derby and the BCC. He's what we call a talented slob. In a big field you can pretty much project that he won't have a good trip but as long as he doesn't get stopped outright like the Derby, he will be a late running threat.
rahman Williams More than 1 year ago
If He could only get a half length faster he might of won both derby and classic. Maybe Verrazano does not get in his way. Definitely Classic, cant wait to see him.next year if he comes to BigCap I will be there.
Thomas Cook More than 1 year ago
This colt is just getting better n better. Wait until he's four.
mqirish50 More than 1 year ago
I agree!! If healthy and able to run at four watch out. He just looks like a monster going forward!!!!
Diana Levy More than 1 year ago
I don't know; Unbridled's Song+ a huge horse+ the Lukas factor doesn't bode well for a 4 year old campaign. One can hope, but don't hold your breath