08/25/2013 9:06AM

Saratoga: Will Take Charge, Moreno eye Pennsylvania Derby as division remains wide open

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Michael Amoruso
Will Take Charge (No. 5) rallies outside of Moreno to win the Grade 1 Travers by a nose Saturday.

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Will Take Charge and Moreno, separated by a nose in Saturday’s $1 million Travers Stakes, are likely to meet again in next month’s Pennsylvania Derby, while Kentucky Derby winner Orb and Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice appear headed for the Jockey Club Gold Cup as the race for the 3-year-old championship heads into the fall.

Will Take Charge, trained by D. Wayne Lukas, surged late under Luis Saez to nip 31-1 shot Moreno in the final strides and win the Travers, muddling the 3-year-old division while earning a 107 Beyer Speed Figure in the process.

On Sunday morning, Lukas said Will Take Charge came out of the race very well and that the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 21 at Parx and the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup on Sept. 28 at Belmont were the two races he and owner Willis Horton talked about Saturday night.

While both races carry a $1 million purse, the Pennsylvania Derby allows Will Take Charge to meet only 3-year-olds. Also, Lukas and Horton each would be in line for a $50,000 bonus from Parx management for bringing the Travers winner to the Pennsylvania Derby. The connections of the winners of any Triple Crown race and the Haskell also are eligible for such a bonus.

Will Take Charge, who ran in all three Triple Crown races without much impact, added the Travers to a résumé that includes wins in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes and the listed Smarty Jones.

“Everybody has to do more to sort this out,” Lukas said about the divisional championship. “He’s in the picture with the rest of them, certainly.”

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Moreno, whose lone stakes victory is the Grade 2 Dwyer, hasn’t done enough to be considered for the 3-year-old championship, but he certainly ran a gutsy race in the Travers, leading for all but the last jump – not bad for a horse who won his first race June 8.

“I wasn’t too far off when I said I think I might have one of the best 3-year-olds in the country,” trainer Eric Guillot said Sunday. “I beat the Derby, Belmont, and Haskell winner, and he beat Orb on the fair and square.”

Guillot said he would keep Moreno at Saratoga until a few days before the Pennsylvania Derby.

Orb, in his first start since the Belmont Stakes, rallied along the inside to put his head in front at the eighth pole but couldn’t sustain his bid and was beaten three-quarters of a length.

“I thought he ran great, I thought Jose [Lezcano] rode him really well – I got no qualms,” trainer Shug McGaughey said Sunday. “Who knows what would have happened if Moreno would have stopped earlier? I thought he would have gone out there and gone faster.”

McGaughey said the Jockey Club Gold Cup was the likely next target for Orb, “but that doesn’t eliminate the Pennsylvania Derby,” he added.

McGaughey believes that Orb, who has wins in the Florida Derby and the Fountain of Youth in addition to the Kentucky Derby, is the leader of the division at this point.

“I think Orb has to be the leader,” McGaughey said. “He ran against Will Take Charge four times and beat him three. Verrazano, we ran against him twice, and we beat him twice. Palace Malice, we ran against him three times and beat him two.”

Orb was scheduled Sunday afternoon to be vanned back to the Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland, where he had spent the last two months leading up to the Travers.

Palace Malice, who won the Belmont and Jim Dandy Stakes from a stalking position, was compromised in the Travers by a bad break that left him last early on under Mike Smith. Still, he rallied to finish fourth, beaten only a length.

“Mike said he took a step forward, they were trying to correct him when they kicked it, he wasn’t standing properly, and his hind legs went out from underneath him,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “He got away bad, totally took him out of his game plan. Considering that, he ran great, got beat a length.”

The biggest disappointment of the Travers was Verrazano, the Haskell Invitational winner, who backed up to seventh, beaten 11 lengths in the Travers as the 8-5 favorite. Pletcher could find no excuse and believes that Verrazano simply regressed from his 9 3/4-length win in the Haskell four weeks ago.

“If you’re a believer in the bounce theory, it looks like a classic bounce,” Pletcher said. “In the Haskell, he ran a 116 Beyer Figure, and he ran a 97 Beyer Figure yesterday. We got the trip we wanted; everything was going smoothly. At the half-mile pole, Johnny [Velazquez] said he didn’t get the response he expected. After going three-quarters in [1:12.88], you can’t say it was the mile and a quarter that got him beat.”

Pletcher said he would take a couple of weeks to make a decision on what to do next with Verrazano. He said all options are open, including training up to the Breeders’ Cup.

Asked for his thoughts on the 3-year-old division, Pletcher said, “I’d say it’s as wide open as it was going in.”