Trained by D. Wayne Lukas and ridden by Jon Court, Will Take Charge overcame the outside post 9 in the one-mile, short-stretch Smarty Jones. By Unbridled's Song out of the multiple grade I-winning Dehere mare Take Charge Lady, Will Take Charge paid $26.20 to win in his first start at the Arkansas racetrack.
Will Take Charge entered the Smarty Jones, named for the 2004 Arkansas Derby and Kentucky Derby (both gr. I) winner, off a second-place finish behind 128-1 Texas Bling in the $300,000 Springboard Mile for 2-year-olds at Remington Park in early December. He needed all he had to nail Texas Bling, once again send off a longshot at 18-1, at the wire in the Smarty Jones.
Will Take Charge was wide into the first turn as Avare, a California shipper, held a slim lead over Texas Bling, King Henny, and the favored Always in a Tiz through a :23.11 opening quarter-mile. Avare held a slim lead over Texas Bling with Will Take Charge three-wide in third through a half-mile in :46.65 on a fast track.
Avare gave way suddenly on the second turn as Texas Bling took over with Will Take Charge to his outside through six furlongs in 1:11.89. The top two opened up daylight, but it was blanket finish when Always in a Tiz found room and closed on the outside.
At the wire, Will Take Charge had a neck on Texas Bling, who finished a head ahead of Always in a Tiz. The time for the one mile was 1:38.64. The 9-4 exacta, a reverse of the one-two order in the Springboard Mile, paid $316 for a $2 wager.
Will Take Charge, bred in Kentucky by Eaton, capped off a strong three-day weekend for Lukas, who on Jan. 19 won the grade III Lecomte Stakes for 3-year-olds at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots with Bluegrass Hall's Oxbow by 11 1/2 lengths. Will Take Charge broke his maiden at Keeneland in October, then finished a distant 13th and last in the grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs in November.
The Smarty Jones Stakes is a Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) qualifier, with Will Take Charge earning 10 points.
"This is unbelievable," Horton said. "He had kind of a rough race. It's remarkable that he could still win. We've thought highly of him since we got him. We look forward to going forward with him, hopefully to the Derby."
Take Charge Lady also has produced last year's Florida Derby (gr. I) winner Take Charge Indy. Will Take Charge was a $425,000 purchase at the 2011 Keeneland September yearling sale.