11/05/2013 12:53PM

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.