Before beginning any talk about Take Charge Indy, Pat Byrne wants to make one thing clear: He has no regrets about not running the colt in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II).
Byrne, who trains Take Charge Indy for Charles and Maribeth Sandford, decided to withdraw the son of A.P. Indy from the March 10 race, not only because he drew what he thought was an unenviable post 10, but also because he felt the timing of the race wasn’t right for his colt.
After Prospective won the $350,000 race with a relatively low speed figure and longshot Golden Ticket ran second, many writers questioned Byrne’s decision not to run him in the race, believing it was the horse’s best opportunity to earn enough graded earnings to make the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). Instead, Byrne opted to take his chances in the March 31 Florida Derby (gr. I), a tougher race that will include current Kentucky Derby favorite Union Rags and El Padrino, who defeated Take Charge Indy in a Jan. 29 allowance race at Gulfstream Park.
“I’m tired of answering the question; I don’t want to sound (annoyed) but can we move on from it?” Byrne said. “You can always say ‘coulda, woulda, shoulda’ with everything, but the bottom line is I’m the 5-1 third choice in a $1 million race. Am I going to say I wish I wasn’t here? It all depends at the way you look at it. Todd's (Pletcher) horse (Tampa Bay Derby favorite Spring Hill Farm) falls out of the gate and breaks his knee. Nobody could have predicted that.
“We can analyze it to death, but let’s say I ran him in the Tampa Day Derby, and he ran third. Now I’ve earned a small amount of money, but I’ve also had a race in him and he’s emptied out. Now I have to come back in three weeks for the Florida Derby.
"Me knowing this colt better than anyone, he’s not the kind that can handle running three weeks back, especially not if he’s going to run in these big kind of (Triple Crown) races. All horses are made differently, and my horse is small and runs well fresh. He ran his heart out in the race against El Padrino, and if I would have brought him back in the Tampa Derby and then tried to run in the Florida Derby, who knows how he would handle that?
“There are a million ways to analyze it, but he’s doing well and we’re happy to take our chances here.”
Take Charge Indy was beaten two lengths by El Padrino in that 1 1/16-mile race, which was his season debut. As a juvenile he won once in four starts, but finished second in the Arlington-Washington Futurity (gr. III), was 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 all winter at Palm Meadows in South Florida.
“The more time this colt gets the more he’s going to develop from a strength standpoint,” said Byrne. “I’m hoping the two months off is going to help him. If El Padrino wasn’t in the race he probably would’ve won by five lengths under wraps.
“When El Padrino ran by him, my horse wasn’t backing up. He wasn’t laying down looking for a place to take a nap. El Padrino just ran by him like he was being tied to a fence post and that’s when I said, ‘Wow, he might have just hooked the best 3-year-old in the country.’ But he ran big speed numbers in that race and ran his tail off.”
Byrne, 56 is no stranger to success on a major level, having trained Breeders’ Cup-winning juveniles Countess Diana and Favorite Trick in 1997. The following year he saddled Awesome Again for victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I). So even if Take Charge Indy doesn’t make it to the Big Dance, it isn’t the end of the world in his eyes. If he doesn’t make it to Churchill Downs, right now the back-up plan in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I). His sire, A.P. Indy, won the 1992 Belmont.
“If he runs third makes a $100,000 he’ll have $198,000 (in graded earnings), and he’ll be on the (Derby) bubble,” said the native of England. “That part of it we’re not in control of. Believe me, it would be a big day for this colt if he runs third in the grade I Florida Derby. He’s a nice horse, will do better with maturity, and who knows, he might just jump up and win it.
“I think he’s a fresh horse and a dangerous horse. He’s seasoned. He’s a smart colt. He’s push-button; he can be on lead or take back. He’s one of those versatile horses. The horse is speed and can be dangerous with his speed, so if he’s in the game a little bit that’s fine. If he’s in the lead walking the dog that’s great. If he’s sitting second or third because a 50-1 shot wants to be on the lead, that’s OK, too.”