The most accomplished juveniles in the barn of Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas—Willis Horton's 14 Hands Winery Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) and Delta Princess (gr. III) winner Take Charge Brandi and Zayat Stables LLC's Delta Jackpot (gr. III) runner-up Mr. Z —will each have one more dance before the universal birthday for Thoroughbreds arrives on Jan. 1 and those young stars embark on their 3-year-old campaigns.
Both horses will travel to Southern California's Los Alamitos Race Course in an effort to put an exclamation point on their respective successful juvenile campaigns. Take Charge Brandi will bid to wrap up the Eclipse Award for champion 2-year-old filly in the $350,000 Starlet (gr. I) on Saturday, Dec. 13, and Mr. Z will seek his breakthrough stakes victory in the $500,000 Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I) on Saturday, Dec. 20.
The setting at Los Alamitos, which has been primarily a Quarter Horse venue throughout its history, will be very familiar to Lukas, who is the only trainer to be enshrined in both the Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racing Halls of Fame.
Both races are also part of the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" and "Road to the Kentucky Oaks" points systems that will determine the horses that will compete next spring in the 141st runnings of the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and the $1 million Longines Kentucky Oaks (gr. I).
Lukas has four victories in each of those signature races at Churchill Downs.
Take Charge Brandi was not even a tiny blip of the Eclipse Award radar screen when she traveled to Santa Anita for the Juvenile Fillies off an eighth-place finish in the Darley Alcibiades (gr. I) at Keeneland, which was her fourth consecutive loss following a sparkling debut win at Churchill on June 22.
But she led throughout in springing a 61-1 upset in her Breeders' Cup race, then erased thoughts that her Santa Anita performance might have been a fluke with a win in the $400,000 Delta Princess on Nov. 22 at Louisiana's Delta Downs.
In a year in which there is no standout among 2-year-old fillies, Lukas believes the back-to-back wins are enough to merit an Eclipse Award championship for Take Charge Brandi. If she extends her winning streak to three at Los Alamitos, he thinks it would be difficult for voters to look away from his chestnut filly.
"I want to take the doubt out of the vote," Lukas said in his stable office. "Let's make it easy."
The Giant's Causeway filly is out of Charming, who is out of multiple grade I winner Take Charge Lady. The latter is the dam of champion Will Take Charge , now retired to stud at Three Chimneys Farm.
"We've been so blessed with that family, and my theory has always been, 'If they get good, run 'em and not put them in a stall,' " Lukas said. "I really thought she was coming up to the Delta Downs race as well as the Breeders' Cup, so to get two like that was good. I think she's going to run huge the next time.
"I'm not afraid to lead them over there."
Mr. Z also won at first-asking at Churchill when he took a six-furlong maiden race on June 28. He has failed to win in six subsequent starts, but has done enough to merit being included as a wagering interest in Churchill Downs' first Kentucky Derby Future Wager pool leading up to Derby 141.
He was beaten by a nose in his most recent outing in the $1 million Delta Jackpot won by Ocho Ocho Ocho. Other strong stakes efforts include runner-up finishes in the Claiborne Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) and the Saratoga Special (gr. II) and Sanford (gr. II) at Saratoga Race Course this summer. He also ran fifth behind Texas Red in the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) to amass career earnings of $439,726 despite a single visit to the winner's circle.
"He's a hard-knocker," Lukas said. "I want to be here in May (in the Kentucky Derby) with him."
Should Lukas guide Take Charge Brandi to champion status, she would be his 25th Thoroughbred champion. He trained 23 Quarter Horse champions prior to moving over to Thoroughbreds in 1978.