Willis D. Horton's Will Take Charge has long been referred to as a horse who makes one powerful run, and on Sept. 21 that run landed him in the Parx Racing winner's circle with a 2 1/4-length victory in the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) (VIDEO) .
The Unbridled's Song contender, sent off favored at 2-1 in a field of eight 3-year-olds, won his second major sophomore test in a row for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas after claiming the Aug. 24 Travers at Saratoga Race Course. Final time for the 1 1/8-mile event was 1:49.28.
"His maturity is really starting to take hold," Lukas said. "I told Mr. Horton before the race that I didn't think (Will Take Charge) had ever looked better. I really think he gained 25-30 pounds since the Travers."
Fourth on the outside heading into the first turn, Will Take Charge dropped back to fifth and hit a comfortable stride under jockey Luis Saez while Travers runner-up Moreno took his customary place in the lead. After a bad break in which he was crowded from the outside at the start, Moreno set the pace through opening fractions of :23.35, :46.74, and 1:10.41 while maintaining the advantage turning for home.
Still outside in fifth rolling into the far turn, Will Take Charge was shifted toward an opening left on the rail when a tiring Moreno drifted out. The blaze-faced chestnut burst through the gap and took the lead with a few powerful strides, then continued to draw off under steady handling after running a mile in 1:36.11.
"It is going to come down to head to head," Lukas said of the battle for 2013's outstandig 3-year-old. "I am not blown away to think we are going to overwhelm anything, but we are very much in the picture and it will come down to head to head competition."
Lukas said Will Take Charge will leave for Kentucky the morning of Sept. 22, and will train at Churchill Downs until the Monday or Tuesday before a planned run in the Nov. 2 Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I).
"He is going to get better," Lukas said. "He had a great four weeks after the Travers and he will get a nice five-week break now. We are going to turn the page on this one and look forward to the Breeders Cup."
Will Take Charge returned $6.60, $3.80, and $2.80 while 3-1 Moreno paid $3.80 and $2.80. Battier brought $6.80.
Will Take Charge, bred in Kentucky by Eaton out of grade I winner Take Charge Lady, is a $425,000 graduate of the 2011 Keeneland September yearling sale, in which he was consigned by Hill 'n' Dale.
The big colt improved his record to five wins and two seconds from 12 starts, and counts the Rebel Stakes (gr. III) and Smarty Jones Stakes among his previous scores. He has come into his own after campaigning in all three Triple Crown races, in which he finished off the board.