Updated on 08/27/2013 8:17AM

Travers: Will Take Charge surges late to nose out Moreno

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Tom Keyser
Will Take Charge (2nd from left) defeats Moreno (2nd from right) in the Travers. Orb (right) finished third and Palace Malice (left) was fourth.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – D. Wayne Lukas began the week by putting Preakness winner Oxbow on a van home to Calumet Farm, not to race again this year, perhaps never again.

But the former basketball coach turned Hall of Fame trainer knows the value of a deep roster, and Lukas, nine days shy of his 78th birthday, ended the week with a victory in the Travers Stakes as Will Take Charge surged past stubborn pacesetter Moreno to win Saturday’s $1 million Travers by a nose before a crowd of 47,597 at Saratoga.

It was three-quarters of a length back to Kentucky Derby winner Orb, who nosed out Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice for third. They were followed in the order of finish by Romansh, War Dancer, Verrazano, the 8-5 favorite, Golden Soul, and Transparent.

It was a result, as Lukas said, that puts the 3-year-old division “in turmoil. I mean it’s upside down.”

It was the third victory in eight starts this year for Will Take Charge, who this winter at Oaklawn won the Smarty Jones in January and the Grade 3 Rebel in March. Will Take Charge, a son of Unbridled’s Song owned by Willis Horton, competed in all three Triple Crown races, running a troubled eighth in the Kentucky Derby before no-show efforts in the Preakness and Belmont.

[SARATOGA 2013: Complete meet coverage, exclusive DRF videos]

He did come to life with a second-place finish in the Jim Dandy before his 9-1 Travers upset.

It was the third victory in the Travers for Lukas, who won this race in 1991 with Corporate Report and 1995 with Thunder Gulch. He hadn’t participated in the race since 2002.

Following the Triple Crown, Lukas took the blinkers off of Will Take Charge for the Jim Dandy, where he came within a length of Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice. For the Travers, he made a rider switch from Junior Alvarado to Luis Saez.

“I just made the change and felt that it was in the best interest of what we’re trying to get done,” Lukas said. “You look terrible if it doesn’t work, but it’s sweet if it does.”

Saez, riding in his first Travers, kept Will Take Charge in fifth, just outside of Orb, but only about 4 1/2 lengths off the pace. Moreno, the pacesetter in the Jim Dandy, was able to get away with very soft fractions of 24.40 seconds for the quarter, 48.88 for the half-mile, and 1:13.43 for six furlongs.

Romansh was stalking from between horses, and Verrazano was stalking from well out in the track while racing in third. Palace Malice, who stalked Moreno in the Jim Dandy, was far back after slipping leaving the starting gate, according to jockey Mike Smith.

Moreno, 30-1 under Jose Ortiz, drifted slightly turning for home, leaving an opening for Orb and his jockey, Jose Lezcano, who was subbing for injured rider Joel Rosario, to come through and put a head in front at the eighth pole.

Saez had Will Take Charge right behind Moreno in midstretch before he was able to get him outside in the final sixteenth. Moreno kept trying, Orb was weakening, but Will Take Charge surged and got up in the final strides.

Will Take Charge covered the 1 1/4 miles in 2:02.68 and returned $21.20.

Lukas said he was thinking of his long-time client, Willis Horton, when the horses hit the finish line.

“It is the most wonderful feeling to be able to put somebody who put up his money, stayed by you, believed in you, to give them that moment,” Lukas said. “Three strides from the wire, the only thing I thought of was him and his wife.”

As exhilarating as the victory was for Lukas, it was deflating for trainer Eric Guillot, who sort of acted like the class clown the week leading up to the Travers with voodoo dolls of Todd Pletcher and a party at the barn. But on Saturday, there was genuine emotion in Guillot’s eyes and voice as he watched the replay of Moreno just getting nipped at the wire.

“Disappointed big time, I had to hold back the tears, it takes a lot to make Guillot cry,” Guillot said. “When I see [owner Mike Moreno] I’m going to break down and cry. Half a jump, right? Not even half a jump.”

Orb, making his first start since the Belmont Stakes, ran a credible third, making a brief lead before just faltering late.

“He ran a good race,” trainer Shug McGaughey said. “You can’t cry over spilled milk. We got him back on the right track.”

Palace Malice did well to finish within a length of the lead at the wire after breaking poorly and racing last through the first half-mile.

“He just lost his back legs leaving there, it happens,” Smith said. “I couldn’t do anything, I can’t go to the lead. All I could do was sit back there creep up, creep up, creep up, and see if I could get them. For a moment there, I thought I still had it. It was just too much to make up.”

Verrazano, the favorite off blow-out wins in the Pegasus and Haskell, was getting a beautiful trip early but at the half-mile pole jockey John Velazquez said he “came off the bridle. He just went through the motions.”

For Todd Pletcher, trainer of both Palace Malice and Verrazano, the result put a blemish on what has been a terrific meet, including a victory in the Grade 1 King’s Bishop with 28-1 shot Capo Bastone one race earlier.

“We would have liked to have won it, but we’ve had a great meet and we’re not going to cry about it,” Pletcher said. “We’ll regroup and try again.”

russell More than 1 year ago
Palice Malice is best. Orb is 2nd
Big Jeff More than 1 year ago
Uncle Verrazano?
Robert Johnson More than 1 year ago
It will be interesting to see the new division rankings tomorrow. Normandy Invasion 1st or 2nd?
Billy More than 1 year ago
No entries in the Preakness with a barn full of dynamite, so the teacher wins it. Odds on unbeatable horse runs a terrible race, so the teacher wins it. First half on that double the student sends out a horse with no form and wins it. Second half of the double the teacher wins it. Sounds like JFK to me.
Daniel Alvarado More than 1 year ago
Final thoughts from me...I think we learned a few things from the Travers. 1.) Orb and Palace Malice are legit, both overcame some obstacles and yet were within a length of the winner, mad respect for both. 2.) WTC and Moreno are coming into their own and will be dangerous down the road. 3.) Verrazano is a complete fraud, sat on a perfect trip, no excuses and yet he folded, as I predicted, after about a mile.
Charles Sakach More than 1 year ago
Here's the problem: The BRIS and Beyer Speed figures were inflated for their darling Verrazano this entire year. I would have liked to have bet this race, but the inflated speed rating on the Haskell created a high variant that played into my calculations. On paper, Verrazano should have jogged based on my calculations. One of my associates does not really take a whole lot of stock in track variants. He is aware that they do exist, but in his opinion a horse that is in shape runs fairly close within a grouping of races while in form. He pointed out that if one equates 1/5th of a second to a length, a 17 length difference between the Haskell (1:50 2/5) and the Jim Dandy (1:47 1/5) resulting in a much higher speed rating for Verrazano over Palace Malice was ridiculous. (BRIS awarded Palace Malice a 105 while awarding Verrazano a 111 for a much slower race.) During the discussion I pointed out that in my experience that: 1. Saratoga normally has more of cushion than Monmouth; in fact I think to imply that Monmouth has a cushion at all is incorrect. 2. Historically, horses doing well in the Jim Dandy fair better than those coming out of the Haskell. I took the safe route and didn't bet because it appeared that Verrazano would overwhelm the field and would not pay enough to get me excited. However, I was excited in that we may see Verrazano possibly toy with Lawyer Ron's track record in a devastating victory. I apologize to those that used my calculations only to lose money. In all fairness, my calculations were based on an inflated speed rating provided by BRIS. (I also believe the Beyer rating was skewed as well.) Unfortunately, I don't have the time or resources to keep my own data to calculate par times and variants. That's why I have to resort to the speed ratings to reverse-engineer the final times where the 100 point scores are awarded and compare them to a standard parallel time chart. Supposedly, I leave that up to the "experts"... Well, I don't know why the "experts" are so enthralled with Verrazano that they inflate his speed ratings. I am very disappointed.
Charles Sakach More than 1 year ago
My bad.... Lawyer Ron's record was at 9 furlongs in the Whitney (2007). I was still looking for Verrazano to do something similar...not going to happen any time soon I guess...
mikey More than 1 year ago
Not really....they are not that inflated for the 9 furlongs there were taken.....but the weakness with all these BRIS, Beyer and even Timeform is they do NOT account for the distance....specially going longer....These ratings forget to take into account the kind of horses we breed today....sprinters to milers.....kind of like how they gave Frankel that high rating at 8 furlongs but he never tried 12 furlongs because he would be severely compromised at that distance......
Charles Sakach More than 1 year ago
Mike...I think you missed the point. BRIS, Beyer, and perhaps Timeform...are enthralled with Verrazano because of the hype. They think that how could he not deserve such an inflated rating in the Haskell. (Again, over 3 seconds slower than the Jim Dandy....this is huge...then to score Verrazano higher than Palace Malice? Wow...) I think his 2nd lifetime victory was legit and appropriately awarded a 104 score by BRIS. However, his subsequent Tampa Bay Derby looked so-so. But because he looked so impressive in his previous race, BRIS awarded him a 100 point score. (I really don't know what DRF did because I can get BRIS for free so that's what I use.) This is why I think he flopped in the Derby. The scores he was awarded for his victories were inflated.
mikey More than 1 year ago
Sorry Charles....I think it is fact these horses are faster at shorter distances up to about a mile or so but lacks the stamina going further.....unfortunately all these speed figs do not account for the current breeding and how going longer makes them less than grade 1 or even grade 2.....if you looked at Rachel's time and Beyer in 2010 she was still up there but when she went 10f at the PE she stop like a horse hitting a steel wall at past 9 furlongs....indicative of the breeding.....
mikey More than 1 year ago
Now not saying they weren't enthralled with Verrazano....you do have a point....same hype as Frankel....talk about inflated rating.....of course now that the British has a championship day in October and their premier race is 10 furlongs.....you just kind of giggle about it....imo....lol
Mine thatbird More than 1 year ago
The Travers was filled with nice 1 1/4 pedigrees except Verrazano, no surprise he wouldn't last. Anyone who has followed this sport the last several years has seen horses like Quality Road and Uncle Mo who are brilliant but cant stay the 1 1/4. Hope Verrazano runs the BC dirt mile and not the Classic.
Infinity More than 1 year ago
Another Jockeys race......1:13 and change...Rating Verrazzo? Why? I don't get it.....at least the Pacific classic has a guaranteed pace today.....these three years olds are well bred, but average crop......Keep beating each other.......I question that 116 beyer figure also.....more like 105......WTC is nice colt and obviously liked Saratoga..some don't like the surface......He is the biigest colt in the race everytime they run....
mikey More than 1 year ago
I WILL SAY IT AGAIN.... We DO NOT BREED or TRAIN HORSES for 10 furlongs or longer...... PERIOD....at that distance it is a crapshoot..... but there are still those who keeps pretending......or come up with ridiculous excuses.... try Rachel ALexandra at the 10 furlongs Personal Ensign.....they just stop running if they go all out.....that is why these stars do not go all out at 10 furlongs hence the slow early fractions because if they all go out, they would look worse the last 1.5 furlongs.....
Matthew Ellis More than 1 year ago
Didn't anyone think VERAZZANO Travers looked a lot like BIG BROWNS Belmont. Something is different people that wasn't the same horse as HASKELL or PEGASUS. I was just amazed at those earlier races him opening up at 1/9 even against Its my lucky day with M.Smith on him.
Matthew Ellis More than 1 year ago
Calm down people Verrazano will be back. He didn't like the extra testing zero tolerance medication testing of NYRA or Kentucky Derby. He will be brilliant again as soon as he can take his vitamins maybe at Gulfstream or Monmouth. How dare Moreno or E. Guillet send a horse to the lead and compete. The protocol was to rate let the easy lead established by Pletcher horse and then turn loose for the final 1/8 th after the race was dedided.
rahman Williams More than 1 year ago
Someone should pray for these verrazano apologist. Good mile to mile and one eighth type. A horse that needs and absolutely perfect trip to get a mile and on eighth Which is a clear second or third no horse competing with him for that spot romanash kept going with verrazano all the way to the turn and will take charge the winner. He quit not a sign of special horse but he will make some more money a lot money if he is healthy weak fields mile to mile 1/8
mikey More than 1 year ago
He has 1 or 2 races left before he is retired.He will never see Gulfstream again.They will retire him before he is not worth breeding too.