For three weeks people doubted Pat Byrne’s decision to bypass the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) and instead save Take Charge Indy for the $1 million Florida Derby (gr. I) (VIDEO). The veteran trainer proved he knew exactly what he was doing when the A.P. Indy colt wired the field under Calvin Borel in a major upset March 31 at Gulfstream Park.
Although sent off at 7-1, his one-length theft was much bigger than the tote board reflected. Take Charge Indy defeated 2-5 favorite Union Rags, who was the consensus Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands favorite entering the race. Union Rags, with Julien Leparoux aboard, raced near the inside most of the way until finally being swung out in mid-stretch. But it was too late to catch the winner and 31-1 longshot Reveron, as he finished 1 1/4 lengths back in third.
Risen Star winner El Padrino, the 5-2 second choice, finished fourth without an excuse.
Byrne admitted earlier in the week that he was tired of answering to media members who questioned his decision to withdraw Take Charge Indy from the March 10 Tampa Bay Derby after the colt was entered but drew poorly in post 10. He said the dark bay would benefit from being fresh, as he had not raced since finishing second to El Padrino in a Jan. 29 allowance race at Gulfstream. Byrne was right on the money with his decision.
Take Charge Indy is owned by Charles and Maribeth Sandford. He was an $80,000 Keeneland September 2010 yearling sale purchase, with Eaton Sales, agent, consigning the colt. Eaton bred the dark bay or brown colt, who is out of the Dehere mare Take Charge Lady.
“I wasn’t surprised at all," Byrne said. "He’s been training great and the jock did a super job. He needs five, six weeks, at least (between races), so that’s the reason we took aim at the Tampa Bay race. When we were sitting there and he drew the 10 hole, Chuck and I and Maribeth were talking about it and we said ‘That colt is doing so well, why don’t we take a shot in the Florida Derby'."
On paper, the Florida Derby had little speed in it and Take Charge Indy took advantage under Borel. They went straight to the front into the short run of the first turn. Reveron also broke well from post 8 under Elvis Trujillo and those two would run all the way around the track together. Neck 'n Neck raced in third for six furlongs, while El Padrino and Union Rags raced in tandem in the next group.
The fractions were legitimate, with Take Charge Indy clicking off splits of :23.60, :47.71, 1:12.09, and 1:35.95 for a mile with Reveron pressing him the whole way.
Take Charge Indy led by only a length at the eighth pole and though Reveron never gave way, he could not get to the winner. Union Rags was 1 3/4 lengths in front of El Padrino.
The final time for 1 1/8 miles on a fast track was 1:48.79.
“He needed the last race, I don’t care what anybody says," said Borel, who rode Take Charge Indy for the first time in the Gulfstream allowance. "This horse, he has the potential; he has the breeding behind him. Pat’s been to the big dance, so he wasn’t coming to play, I’ll tell you that.
“He’d been off for a while, and I didn’t want to take anything from him. I think we got enough out of the race last time for today, and it set him up just right. This horse has the breeding to go on down the road.”
Union Rags was 1-9 on the tote board for much of the early betting until finally being sent off at 2-5. He was seen getting a shoe repair about 12 minutes prior to the race, forcing him to join the paddock a bit late. More likely than the shoe, it was the inside trip that probably affected his effort the most.
“He sprung his right hind shoe in the paddock, but I don’t think it was a big deal," trainer Michael Matz said. "We had to tack it back on. Julien said Javier (Castellano, El Padrino jockey) was on him the whole time down the backside, but that’s just race-riding. He said he should have been closer the way the track has been right now. Horses aren’t coming back.
"Pat’s horse got an easy lead and he got a head start on me, and we just couldn’t get him. Julien said he just didn’t get out in time and the way the track is today, you had to be close to the pace. I’m not going to trade with anybody. It’s just unfortunate how it turned out today, but he can’t help that. It was just one of those things.”
As a juvenile, Take Charge Indy won once in four starts, finishing second in the Arlington-Washington Futurity (gr. III), fourth in the Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I) at Keeneland, and a solid fifth in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) at Churchill Downs in his first start on dirt. He has trained well for Byrne at Palm Meadows since finishing two lengths behind El Padrino in his season debut.
His Florida Derby win improved his record to 2-2-0 from six starts and upped his earnings to $721,000. It also suddenly muddled the Kentucky Derby picture, which is much more wide-open than it was before Saturday.
“We knew he liked the racetrack. We’re not surprised," Byrne said. "It’s a great result with that pedigree and (winning) a grade I. Chuck and Maribeth have been in the business two years, and this is their first grade I. They deserve it."
Take Charge Indy paid $17.40, $9, and $3.60. Reveron, the Gulfstream Park Derby winner Jan. 1, returned $18.40 and $4 while filling out a $252.40 exacta (3-9). The trifecta (3-9-6) was worth $224.80 for $1.