Will Take Charge, last year's champion 3-year-old male, headlines a cast of very familiar names for Churchill Downs' Alysheba Stakes (gr. II) May 2 at 1 1/16 miles. Normally run during the middle of the Oaks undercard, the name recognition is so alluring the race will be just before the Longines Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) with a 4:52 p.m. post.
The purse may be $300,000, but a better field would be tough to put together at twice the price. Will Take Charge will be facing three other runners from last year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I): runner-up Golden Soul, fourth-place finisher Normandy Invasion, and fifth-place finisher Mylute.
The 2012 Travers Stakes (gr. I) winner Golden Ticket also is in the line-up.
The lure of the Alysheba is a relative lull in the handicap division and the race serves as an ideal prep for the $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) to be run under the Twin Spires June 14.
"The Foster is the main the one," said Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who conditions Will Take Charge for Willis Horton and Three Chimneys Farm. "It's a 'Win and You're In' and there are so many benefits to it. I don't know what the entry fee is in the Classic, but it's big; it's huge."
Will Take Charge will be making his fourth start of the year over his fourth different surface in the Alysheba. He ran second to Lea in the Donn Handicap (gr. I) at Gulfstream Park Feb. 14, then shipped to California to run second to Game On Dude in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) March 8, and then rallied to win the Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II) April 12 in Hot Springs, Ark.
Still holding the top form he had throughout the second half of the 2013 season, Will Take Charge drilled a strong five furlongs in 1:00 4/5 April 27 and galloped over the track the morning of April 29.
"He's having a good month," Lukas said. "I was agonizing a little bit whether I should go in this race or go the full 60 days to the Foster, which is our immediate goal, but I felt like we needed to get one under him. He's just doing so damn good. He was full of himself out there this morning. I even changed up his morning; I had him down to have a light morning jog but I gave him a gallop.
"One of the things about this horse is his extreme soundness," Lukas said. "He's maintenance free, he really is. He loves to train. I don't see any reason not to jump right in."
Will Take Charge, a 4-year-old son of Unbridled's Song—Take Charge Lady, by Dehere, is a half brother to Take Charge Indy (by A.P. Indy), winner of last year's Alysheba. Will Take Charge has made three starts over the track at Churchill Downs, winning the Clark Handicap (gr. I) in the fall. Earlier in that year he was making a move on the turn but was shut off by Verrazano in the Kentucky Derby.
"I still feel like, given a chance to run at the top of the stretch and not getting in trouble, I still think he might have won the Derby and that would have changed everything," Lukas said.
However, he did finish behind Golden Soul, Normandy Invasion, and Mylute.
Charles Fipke's homebred Golden Soul has but one win in 11 starts, but did rally late to finish second behind Orb in last year's Derby. The son of Perfect Soul has made five starts since then but has not finished within nine lengths of the winner. He finished fifth in his 2014 debut, the New Orleans Handicap (gr. II) at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots for trainer Dallas Stewart. He worked a half-mile in :50 3/5 at Churchill Downs on April 26. Regular rider Robbie Albarado returns.
Rick Porter's Fox Hill Farms' Normandy Invasion has made only two starts since finishing fourth in last year's Run for the Roses. An impressive allowance winner at Gulfstream Park in late February, he surfaced in the New Orleans Handicap, going to the post as the even-money favorite in the nine-furlong race but could not catch runaway winner Palace Malice. Javier Castellano climbs aboard for trainer Chad Brown.
GoldMark Farm and Whisper Hill Farm's Mylute was fifth in the Derby and then third in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) behind Oxbow and Itsmyluckyday. Given time after a dull effort in the Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) at Saratoga Race Course, the son of Midnight Lute —Stage Stop, by Valid Expectations, surfaced March 27 at Fair Grounds, winning a mile and 70-yard allowance race. Trainer Tom Amoss put in a :50 2/5 half-mile work into Mylute under the Twin Spires April 24.
Five-year-old Golden Ticket stretches out after missing by a head to Palace Malice in the one-mile Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. II) and running fourth in the seven-furlong Carter Handicap (gr. I) April 12 at Aqueduct.
$300,000 Alysheba Stakes (gr. III, Race 10, 4:52 p.m.), 4 & Up, 1 1/8 miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Moonshine Mullin (KY), C. Borel, 118, R. Morse
2. Will Take Charge (KY), G. Stevens, 123, D.W. Lukas
3. Mylute (KY), R. Napravnik, 118, T. Amoss
4. Coin Broker, C. Lanerie, 118, D. Romans
5. Normandy Invasion, J. Castellano, 118, C. Brown
6. Golden Soul, R. Albarado, 118 D. Stewart
7. Golden Ticket, J. Rosario, 118, K. McPeek
8. Appealing Tale, V. Espinoza, 118, P. Miller
9. Bradester, J. Lezcano, 120, E. Kenneally