Courtesy of NYRA publicity team:
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas was a busy man Sunday morning, his regular routine interrupted several times for interviews following Will Take Charge’s upset victory in Saturday’s Grade I, $1 million Travers.
“They keep coming in droves,” quipped Lukas. “That’s a good thing.”
Will Take Charge gave the 77-year-old Lukas his third Travers victory and first since 1995, charging down the stretch to nail stubborn pacesetter Moreno by a nose at the wire.
“He’s doing wonderful; really good,” Lukas said. “I’m very pleased with that. He had great energy this morning, out grazing and feeling good, very good.”
Winner of the Smarty Jones and Grade II Rebel during the winter, Will Take Charge ran in all three legs of the Triple Crown, finishing eighth in the Kentucky Derby, seventh to injured stablemate Oxbow in the Preakness, and 10th in the Belmont Stakes.
He came back to run a strong second, beaten just a length by Belmont winner Palace Malice, in the Spa’s Grade II Jim Dandy on July 27.
“His trips were compromised (during the Triple Crown),” Lukas said. “His style of running puts him in a position where he has to have some things go his way. As he’s gotten older and more mature now, mentally and physically, he’s able to overcome that stuff. Early on in his career, that was the thing that probably slowed him up.”
Ridden for the first time by 21-year-old Luis Saez, Will Take Charge was able to relax off a leisurely pace set by 31-1 long shot Moreno, who led through a quarter mile in 24.40 seconds, a half in 48.88 and six furlongs in 1:13.43.
Saez swung Will Take Charge outside turning for home, and they closed relentlessly down the center of the track to catch Moreno in the final jump.
“I was concerned about the fractions. I thought the fractions were way in favor of the horses that you all liked and not him,” Lukas said. “When they threw up that half-mile and then the [1:13.43] for three quarters, I thought it was tailor made for the favorites. When you go 13 and four and you’re a world-class horse, you’re supposed to finish.”
Lukas complimented the ride of Saez, who he named to ride Wednesday morning before the post position draw, replacing Junior Alvarado.
“He rode a very smart race,” said Lukas. “If he stays tucked in behind that horse at the sixteenth pole, he loses. Boy, this horse really accelerated when he saw daylight and took off. He lengthened his stride five, six feet in the last hundred yards.
“We thought he would mature into a better horse, but we took some chances. We took an untried rider who had never won a Grade I in his life and put him up there. We took the blinkers off. I’ve always felt in racing and training horses that if it’s not working, change up and try something different.”
Lukas is keeping the logical options open for Will Take Charge, including the Grade I, $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup against older horses at Belmont Park on September 28, and staying with straight 3-year-olds in the Grade II, $1 million Pennsylvania Derby on September 21.
“One of them’s a Grade I and very prestigious. If you were to win the Jockey Club, you’d go damn sure to the head of the division,” Lukas said. “If you stay in your division, the million dollars is not necessarily bad, either. We’ll weigh all the things. You get an extra week if you go to the Jockey Club, so that’s also something.”
Lukas said the Travers did little to clarify the 3-year-old picture. Kentucky Derby winner Orb finished a solid third, Palace Malice closed to be fourth after missing the break, and 8-5 favorite Verrazano faded to seventh after stalking the pace.
“I think it muddles it a little bit,” he said. “I think if you’re one of the voting group, you’re going to have trouble until we get a little further down the basepath. It’s going to have to be sorted out in a race or two more. Maybe it will get all the way down to the Breeders’ Cup. The fight’s not over.”
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Moreno was bright and doing well after his gallant second by a nose to Will Take Charge, but trainer Eric Guillot revealed Sunday morning that the gelded son of Ghostzapper raced with a large abscess near his throat.
“That’s an abscess that started Monday,” said Guillot, while a stable hand jogged Moreno in a straight line outside the barn for the trainer’s inspection. “I think the worst day was yesterday. We started compressing it. We’re good to go now, but I thought I was going to have to scratch on Monday. We don’t know what caused it – I think an ingrown hair, maybe, or he jerked back on the chain. It got infected and went the wrong way. You don’t want to pack it and work on it too hard and too fast. Yesterday, we iced it. I gave him a lot of anti-inflammatories.”
While Guillot said the abscess had no impact on Moreno’s performance, the strap from his blinkers wrapped around the abscess. He is treating the wound with silver sulfadiazine, a topical antibacterial.
Travers Day was an emotional one for the colorful Guillot, who told anyone who would listen that the horse named after owner Michael Moreno was one of the best in the 3-year-old division.
“Everyone thought I was talking trash,” Guillot said. “He just beat the Derby winner, the Haskell winner and the Belmont winner, right? ”
Guillot had predicted the key to Moreno’s success would be internal fractions, and Moreno got away on the lead with an opening quarter-mile in 24.48 seconds and a second quarter in 24.55, which put him up by two lengths.
On the turn for home, Moreno was in full flight and had plenty left to turn back a bold challenge by Kentucky Derby winner Orb, only to get caught at the wire by Will Take Charge.
“That’s what we wanted,” Guillot said of the manageable fractions. “That’s why he got beat a whisker. It was a tough loss. It left me all emotional. I walked down to the track by myself. I wished everybody, 50,000 people, just evaporated. I wanted to be by myself for a few minutes. Then I realized, ‘I just got beat a whisker at 30-1 against the best of the best.’ It’s horse racing. If his name was Guillot, he would have won by 20.
“I tried to not get all emotional and teared up, but I had to. I couldn’t do it. I didn’t see (owner) Michael (Moreno); he was up in the box. I was in there 10 minutes later, and we were both crying.”
Guillot said he plans to leave Moreno at Saratoga to train up to the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby on September 21 at Parx Racing and then, if all goes well, he will run in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita.
“We’d run him right out of his stall,” Guillot said, referring to his California base. “It’s my back yard. I’ve got to take that on.”
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Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey on Sunday expressed satisfaction with Orb’s third-place finish in Saturday’s Travers, and said the colt likely will make his next start in the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup on September 28.
In the Travers, Orb saved ground while stalking the pace and loomed at the top of the stretch but was unable to match strides with winner Will Take Charge or overtake runner-up Moreno. Orb was ridden by Jose Lezcano, who replaced injured jockey Joel Rosario.
“I thought he ran a great race,” said McGaughey, who trains the Kentucky Derby winner for Stuart S. Janney III and Phipps Stable. “He came to the paddock the way I wanted him to, and I thought he had running on his mind. I thought Jose rode him great. He was down on the inside the other two horses, and he couldn’t get by Moreno, really, after that slow pace. I’m disappointed we didn’t win, but I’m not disappointed in his effort one bit. I thought they did a terrific job with him.”
If Orb competes in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, he will be making his first start against older horses. The Travers was his first start since his third in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes in June.
“Now we’ve got a good, solid race under his belt, we’ve got all last winter and spring’s stuff behind us,” said McGaughey. “I think we can really move forward now. I’m going to look at the Gold Cup. That’s not to say the Pennsylvania Derby or the Indiana Derby or something is completely out of the picture, but I think we want to go to the Gold Cup.”
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Trainer Todd Pletcher reported Sunday morning that Travers favorite Verrazano and second choice Palace Malice returned from their respective seventh- and fourth-place finishes in good order, and that a decision on their next starts would not be forthcoming for a few days.
“We’re disappointed,” Pletcher said. “Any time after a race, you don’t only look at that race but their entire body of work. As far as their next starts, we have no firm plans. We’ll wait a few days and talk it over with Mr. (Cot) Campbell and the other connections before we make any decisions.”
While Palace Malice wound up beaten less than a length after stumbling at the start, Pletcher could offer no excuse for Verrazano, winner of the Grade I Wood Memorial and Grade I Haskell Invitational.
“(Verrazano) is still 6-for-8 and a multiple Grade I winner,” he said of the More Than Ready colt. “We’re disappointed in yesterday’s performance but we’re not disappointed in the horse. I can’t offer much excuse. I thought he was in a very good tactical position. (But) when Johnny (Velazquez) needed him to start picking it up around the half-mile pole, he just didn’t have the response we were looking for.”
“(With Palace Malice), we weren’t planning on being last going into the first turn behind a dawdling pace,” he said of the Belmont Stakes winner. “I thought he had a winning race in him. Unfortunately, the start did not go well. Once that happened we were in a completely different spot than we anticipated being. Unfortunately, he came up a length short. For a number of reasons, the bad start was compromising. When you tack on the fact they didn’t go very fast up front, I thought he ran a great race, considering all that.”
The Pletcher barn was far from empty-handed Saturday, as Capo Bastone took advantage of torrid early fractions and came from 10th to upset the Grade I, $500,000 King’s Bishop at 28-1.
“We were hoping we would get a favorable pace set-up,” Pletcher said. “We felt like the horse was training very well into it. Based on the strength of his training, we thought we’d take a shot, and it worked out.”
Among those on the main track worktab for Pletcher on Sunday were 2012 Champion Two-Year-Old Male Shanghai Bobby, who worked five furlongs 1:00.91 in company with Graydar, and Grade I Whitney Invitational Handicap winner Cross Traffic, who went a half-mile in 48.19.
“Shanghai continues to go great,” he said. “We’re still a month or so away, but I like what we’re seeing so far. He’s coming back and getting fit a week or so ahead of what we anticipated. We’re really pleased with him and happy to have him back.
“Cross Traffic also went well,” he added. “We’ll make a decision tomorrow or the next day on whether he’ll run in the (Grade I, $750,000] Woodward (on Saturday).”