‘Graveyard of Champions’ Strikes Again: Will Take Charge Takes Travers

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Luis Saez and Willis Horton celebrate after Will Take Charge's win in the Travers Luis Saez and Willis Horton celebrate after Will Take Charge's win in the Travers

A determined Will Take Charge wore down stubborn pacesetter Moreno in the final sixteenth of a mile and hit the wire a nose in front to win the 144th renewal of the Grade 1, $1 million Travers on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.

Kentucky Derby winner Orb, making his first start since finishing third in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes in June, checked in third, three-quarters of a length behind the winner and a nose ahead of Palace Malice, who missed the break and had to rally uncharacteristically from well back.

Verrazano – favored at 8-5 in the field of nine 3-year-olds by a crowd of 47,597, the largest Travers crowd in the past 10 years – stalked the pace but faded to finish seventh.

Trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas for owner Willis D. Horton, Will Take Charge ran 1 ¼ miles in 2:02.68, and returned $21.20 for a $2 win bet as the 9-1 fourth choice.

It was the third Travers victory for Lukas and first since Thunder Gulch in 1995.

Lukas also won with Corporate Report in 1991. This was his first Travers starter since 2002.

Saddling a horse in the “Mid-Summer Derby” for the first time since 2002, Lukas also won with Corporate Report in 1991.

Will Take Charge made jockey Luis Saez a winner in his Travers debut. The Panamanian replaced Junior Alvarado after the chestnut son of Unbridled’s Song closed to be second by a length to Palace Malice in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga on July 27.

“I changed up a [few] things,” Lukas said. “I took a chance on an up-and-coming rider. I thought my horse trained well, but these things are so tough. At the three-eighths pole, I thought we’d get a piece of it, but I didn’t know if we’d get up. He’s a little over 17 hands [tall] and just starting to find himself. This is a horse who’s going to get better. He’s getting his act together.”

Will Take Charge is one of three horses to compete in all three legs of the Triple Crown this spring, finishing eighth in the Kentucky Derby, seventh to injured stablemate Oxbow in the Preakness, and 10th in the Belmont Stakes.

“It feels pretty good,” Lukas said of winning the Travers and the Preakness. “They were reminding me it’s been a long time between drinks, but when they come like this, they come double.”

As he did in the Jim Dandy, in which he finished third, Moreno bounded from the gate and was sent right for the lead by jockey Jose Ortiz. Tracked by Romansh on the inside and Verrazano on the outside, Moreno was able to set a leisurely pace of 24.40 seconds for the quarter-mile and 48.88 for the half.

Dismissed by bettors at 31-1, Moreno was still in front through six furlongs in 1:13.43. Orb began to make a move along the inside with Will Take Charge in close pursuit. Moreno came wide off the final turn after a mile in 1:37.47 but remained on top, though Orb was in full flight on the rail.

Saez swung Will Take Charge to the outside approaching the quarter pole and steered him to the middle of the track for the stretch run. As Moreno dug in to fend off the challenge of Orb, Verrazano began to fade, and Will Take Charge doggedly pursued the leader until sticking his nose in front at the wire.

The margin of victory matched the shortest in Travers history, reached nine times previously but not since Afleet Express in 2010.

“This horse was training good,” Saez said. “Last time, when he finished second, I saw the replays, and I knew how to ride him. I tried to ride him like he runs.”

Will Take Charge opened his sophomore season by winning the Smarty Jones in February, and two starts later beat Oxbow in the Grade 2 Rebel on March 16, both at Oaklawn Park.

Hidden in the shadow of his stablemate, Will Take Charge came off the Triple Crown campaign and was a strong second in the Jim Dandy, running a career-best 105 Beyer Speed Figure.

With the victory, Will Take Charge improved his record to 4-2-0 from 12 starts, and the $600,000 winner’s share nearly doubled his purse earnings to $1,265,371.

“These races, the Triple Crown races, the Breeders’ Cup and the Travers, especially at this time of year when horses have had hard campaigns, they’re special,” Lukas said. “There has never been a bad Travers. This one was really solid, but they’re all great. They don’t put up a million bucks on a Grade 1 and just hand it to them. You better get on your belly and have a horse ready to run, or you’re not going to win one of these.”

Trainer Eric Guillot was thrilled with the effort of Moreno , who broke his maiden on the Belmont Stakes undercard on June 8 in his 10th try, then won the Grade 2 Dwyer before finishing third in the Jim Dandy.

“Brutal, huh? Last jump,” Guillot said. “The kid rode him just like I told him. He knows the horse, and he rode him perfect. We got beat. He said the horse kind of waited on them that last part. What are you going to do?”

Todd Pletcher, who trains both Verrazano and Palace Malice, the 2-1 second choice, offered no excuses.

“Verrazano got a beautiful trip,” he said. “He got exactly where we thought he’d be; the only difference was we thought he’d be stalking Palice Malice. [Jockey] Mike [Smith] said [Palace Malice] missed the break. He slipped behind and dropped way back, not his characteristic spot. Mike thought he was much the best; the break killed him. It’s horse racing. We would have liked to have won it, but we’ve had a great meet and we’re not going to cry about it. We’ll regroup and try again.”

After winning the Derby, Orb was fourth in the Preakness and third in the Belmont, all as the betting favorite, then spent nine weeks at the Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland before returning to Saratoga on August 11.

Third choice in the Travers at 3-1, Orb was followed under the wire by Palace Malice, Romansh, War Dancer, Verrazano, Golden Soul and Transparent.

“He ran a good race,” said Orb’s trainer, Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey. “You can’t cry over spilled milk. We got him back on the right track, and now we’ll point for something else.”

See the full chart here.

Travers (G1) Quotes

Eric Guillot, trainer of runner-up Moreno (No. 6): “Brutal, huh? Last jump. He couldn’t have done any better – stay in the three-path, stay off the rail, make them come to you, don’t let them go inside you, don’t let them pinch you on the rail. The kid [Jose Ortiz] rode him just like I told him. He knows the horse and he rode him perfect; we got beat. He said the horse kind of waited on them that last part. What are you going to do?”

“Who wouldn’t have wanted to win on this day, on this stage? Like I say, you got to pay the piper for the stuff I talk, right? But I backed it up pretty damn good running second at [31-1] in the Travers, right? You can look at it both ways.”

Jose Ortiz, jockey of runner-up Moreno (No. 6): “My horse did a great job. I set the pace, very good, 24 and 48. He gave me a lot, but he was kind of waiting a little bit.”

“I know I went easy the first quarter and the second, so I picked it up after half a mile, and he gave me something. He was playing a little bit and waiting a little bit; I think if he started running at the quarter pole like I wanted, he’d win the race.”

“I didn’t worry about that horse on the inside [Orb], because I felt the horse on the outside.”

Shug McGaughey, trainer of third-place finisher Orb (No. 2): “He ran a good race. You can’t cry over spilled milk. We got him back on the right track, and now we’ll point for something else.”

Jose Lezcano, jockey aboard third-place finisher Orb (No. 2): “I got a very good trip. I got the position I wanted. The break was good, and he gave me his race. At the quarter pole, he accelerated, but the other horses kept going, too.”

Todd Pletcher, trainer of fourth-place finisher Palace Malice (No. 8) and beaten favorite and seventh-place finisher Verrazano (No. 3): “Verrazano got a beautiful trip. He got exactly where we thought he’d be; the only difference was we thought he’d be stalking Palace Malice. Mike [Smith] said [Palace Malice] missed the break. He slipped behind and dropped way back, not his characteristic spot. Mike thought he was much the best; the break killed him. It’s horse racing. It happens every day, every race, 14 times a day sometimes. We would have liked to have won it, but we’ve had a great meet and we’re not going to cry about it. We’ll regroup and try again.”

Mike Smith, jockey aboard fourth-place finisher Palace Malice (No. 8): “You have to go back [to the replay] and watch the break. He broke really, really, really bad. What am I going to do? I cannot go for the lead. All I could do is sit back there, creep up, creep up, creep up and see if I could get him there. I thought I still had it for a little bit there, but it was just too much to make up.”

Thomas Albertrani, trainer of fifth-place finisher Romansh (No. 1): “He ran well, he broke really sharp. It looked like Javier could have been on the lead but he settled for second. He stayed on well ran a good race, just wasn’t good enough.”

Javier Castellano, jockey aboard fifth-place finisher Romansh (No. 1): “He broke sharp, I put him in a good spot in the race. I expected more speed in the race but nobody really wanted to go. My horse was right behind the front runners He made a good move but he got tired.”

Ken McPeek, trainer of sixth-place finisher War Dancer (No. 6): “There was absolutely no pace, the riders chickened out and let the six get away with murder and you know, my horse ran well and he only got beat five lengths, but he didn’t have anything to run at. He is going to run on the dirt again.”

Alan Garcia, jockey aboard sixth-place finisher War Dancer (No. 6): “My horse handled the track. He has no excuse, there was no pace in that race. He ran well, wouldn’t want to expect more, you know. It felt good, he ran a good race.”

John Velazquez, jockey aboard seventh-place finisher Verrazano (No. 3): “I was very happy where I was. By the half-mile pole, he was off the bridle and just went through the motions. He really didn’t put in much effort.”

Dallas Stewart, trainer of eighth-place finisher Golden Soul (No. 4): “We’re just going to regroup and see where we’re at here. I need to talk to Robby [Albarado] more first.”

Robby Albarado, rider of eighth-place finisher Golden Soul (No. 4): “He ran okay. I had a great trip and it wasn’t his day.”

Irad Ortiz, rider of ninth-place finisher Transparent (No. 9): “No pace. All day, the speed was good. They went 24, 48; that’s too slow for this horse. I got relaxed all the way, and when I tried to pick it up his pace, he stayed in the same place and never picked it up.”

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  • c bea

    Could Smith have ridden Palace Malice worse? Mike Smith is an overrated hack!!!

    Great job by the Coach with Will Take Charge!!!

    • Tiznowbaby

      Palace Malice stumbled out of the gate. Race was lost there.

      • Staci

        bull, when you have 1 1/4 miles to recover NO EXCUSES!!!! Afleet Alex FELL TO HIS NOSE in the Preakness last turn and WON!

        • Tiznowbaby

          Hmm. Well in his win in the Belmont, Palace Malice stalked the pace, and in his win in the Jim Dandy, he pressed the pace of Moreno. Since he stumbled coming out of the gate, he lost all position and was taken out of his preferred running style. So yeah, I give him an excuse.

        • Knowitall

          Actually Staci, a mile and a quarter at a slow pace giving up that much ground from the start against good horses is too much to overcome. Anyone with a modicum of common sense about horse racing knew that the second he broke bad. And he is a horse that wants to be closer. He did very well to finish as close as he did. As for Alex (or Alysheba in his Derby) recovering from a stumble when in the lead or contesting it is a completely different and commendable athletic feat.

          • Lawrence Vaccarelli

            bad starts compromise sprinters…a route of ground divides the men from the boys….on occasion a need the lead type appears….but PM is not that type.

        • Lawrence Vaccarelli

          exactly…best horse won and second best horse ran second…..MORENO is for real

    • fb0252

      PM failing to explode out of gate. stumble instead. maybe M. Smith decide to hang back to see if horse is ok before serious run. Protect self and horse first?

    • bryane

      i tend to agree. there is no other jockey you can count on to give such horrible rides in big races. however, the fact that it is almost always on the favorite (or best horse) makes me think he may not be a hack. he may be doing exactly as is he is told….by someone. it just happens too often with him to be racng luck.
      he may have stumbled out of the gate…. but to drop back to last AND go four wide on the first turn? it’s usually one or the other, not both. palace malice has enough speed that he could have recovered from that stumble a lot quicker if Smith wanted him to.

      • Lawrence Vaccarelli

        are you serious ? then don’t bet ……

      • Lost In The Fog

        As for Mike Smith, you’re either kidding, have selective memory or are ignorant of the actual facts. Smith is having a truly spectacular season riding in graded stakes. According to Equibase, among the top 10 jockeys riding in graded stakes races in 2013, Smith is third in dollars won (with considerably fewer starts than the top two of Velazquez and Rosario) and second in winning percentage at 28%.

  • beatrice

    very, very inappropriately titled article. Lukas has done a whole lot more good for the industry than comparable others such as Pletcher. Ever notice that in big races Pletcher’s horses fail to perform? perhaps because of the strongly overseen drugging regulations that are mandated for the big races.

    • Glimmerglass

      >> Ever notice that in big races Pletcher’s horses fail to perform?<<

      And who do you think trained Capo Bastone, today's winner of the $500k Grade 1 King's Bishop today? Stop with the silly rantings and theories which don't hold up to fact.

      • Don Reed

        An accurate assessment of a worthless appraisal.

  • Guy Fleegman1

    The Coach is BACK! And Will Take Charge is as good as any 3 yr old….

  • Tinky

    In an alternate world, in which an aggressive, adversarial racing press existed, the story would go something like this:

    Verrazano? Hype or Hop?

    Verrazano has run well below form three times in his career, when narrowly beating modest foes in the Wood Memorial, and when unplaced and well-beaten in both the Kentucky Derby and Travers Stakes. What was the single common denominator in those three races? Heightened security.

    Is this simply a matter of coincidence, or might it be damning circumstantial evidence of something much more concerning? Let’s hear what our readers have to say…

    • fb0252

      u need hospitalization for paranoia, possibly?

      • Tinky

        Clearly you’ve never gambled seriously on racing in the U.S.

    • fan

      whole-heartedly agree.

    • http://www.theracehorseexperiment.com/ Maureen Tierney

      I think you are so right.

    • zchairman

      You are not very observant or informed, no offense intended. There has never been a More Than Ready offspring win a major race at 1 1/4 miles on dirt and there never will be—that is the common denominator between his two losses, they were both beyond his genetic distance capabilities. His performance had nothing to do with medication or lack thereof.

      • Tinky

        No offense taken, especially given the absurdity of your assertion. Verrazano, who had just earned a 116 Beyer figure at nine furlongs, was done before he had covered a mile in the Travers. To suggest that he was retreating at that point in the race due to a lack of stamina is ridiculous on its face.

        • Lawrence Vaccarelli

          its called class…its invisible…its when a lesser foe looks at a superior one in the eye and he skulks away…don’t tell me you have never seen it ….if you have not , your not really watching all that goes on.

      • Lawrence Vaccarelli

        never say never….most likely it wont happen …and more so in a grade 1

    • harry

      Let me understand this Tinky. Verrazzano got beat because of heighted security.I guess the bounce theory of a 116 Beyer in Haskel could not have played a part in his very poor effort.I guess a less than great ride from John V. letting Moreno set a ridiculous slow pace and not attacking him early in race had nothing to do with his very poor effort. I guess not having a race over Saratoga did not play a part in his poor effort. You say unless I am misunderstanding is he ran poor because of where he was kept for couple of days waiting for Travers. Well the heighten security did not bother the top 3 finishers!!! Just maybe he could not handle Saratoga surface. Who knows but congrats to Will Take Charge for his win today. Wayne Lukas does understand Saratoga is a track where you need a race over it long before day of Travers. Maybe I am just not understanding correctly?????

      • Tinky

        Looking forward to your carefully considered explanations for Pletcher’s 35 losers in 36 attempts to win the Derby. After that, we can move to his Breeder’s Cup record.

        I’m guessing that pattern recognition isn’t your strong suit.

        • Lawrence Vaccarelli

          a lot has todo with that hes got them cranked all year…by year end (BC) there over the top….cant win all year…….

          • Tinky

            Needless to say, your explanation has no bearing whatsoever on the Derby.

          • kyle

            He hasn’t gotten many good horses to the Derby. His problem is he ruins so many on the trail or his two year olds just never go on.

    • SteveG

      Not The Teflon Todd!

    • kyle

      He just isn’t very good. He didn’t run huge in Jersey. Nobody else showed up. His fractions were 24.3, 25.2 and 12.4. His speed figure? It was a bad figure. The paradigm has its flaws.

      • kyle

        To be clear, 24.3 is his adjusted for pace third quarter. The raw time was 24.1.!

      • Lawrence Vaccarelli

        just love those beyer speed figs…sometimes they get every sucker in America who bets horses to jump the bridge with them…lmao

        • Lawrence Vaccarelli

          that being said …why was Moreno such a longshot ? last 3 races since coming east and adding blinkers he has gotten better and better…and his beyer figs ere comparable to anyone…I say comparable because that’s all they should be used for.

          • race

            Lawrence, I agree–Moreno longest shot on the board–Crazy?–I mean Golden Soul was more respected at the windows–doesn’t anyone just maybe look up top and see “Ghostzapper & Awesome Again” and think gee this must be an overlay?—Moreno ran just like his Daddy, just maybe not seasoned enough, and I tip my hat to Eric Guillot, he complemented everyone, and was gracious in defeat—believe me, I wasn’t–

    • Lawrence Vaccarelli

      I think longer distances in 2 of those races has more to do with it….1 1/4 miles no way for this horse 50 yds past 1 1/8th miles is ALL this horse can handel.

      • Tinky

        Nonsense. He was done before he had run a mile in the Travers, so stamina limitations were quite obviously irrelevant.

    • Chris Lowe

      Where was that security in the other races at Saratoga, particularly in the King’s Bishop? I know they are flesh and blood, but given the way the main track was playing(speed, particularly just off the rail), and given Capo Bastone’s style, even a longshot player like me is perplexed, just sayin’…

  • Michael Fisher

    If Orb had had a race under him he would have been closer.

  • Glimmerglass

    Need to give credit to Steve Crist for absolutely nailing the race winner 2-days ago in print with his article: “… because Will Take Charge upsets them all on Saturday.”

    http://www.drf.com/news/steven-crist-need-travers-longshot-here-you-go

  • Don Reed

    I made a $3 profit on the race and the Giants are beating the Jets by 3 points.

    Life is good.

    Imagine all of the Lukas-detesters (unless he has outlived them all; a possibility) who will be forced to vote for his Eclipse Award in December!

    • Don Reed

      Holy ****, the Jets have found themselves a QB! Simms! Of all the people, a Simms!

  • south florida tom

    Blinkers back on Palace Malice.

    • Lawrence Vaccarelli

      lets face it …he throws a crapper race every 3-4 starts

  • Francis Bush

    Lukas did it again. What a fantastic trainer. A few years ago he was given up for dead. After “Jiffy” peanut Young entered race horse heaven fans figured Lukas would disappear. Lukas sent a new message to younger trainers and unconvinced fans. He spoke with a force before the race. His said horse was immature when racing in the Ky Derby and had matured since May. Now, we know he can train horses to run when he gets those well bred.

    • betterthannothing

      Lukas knew that Will Take Charge was tall and immature last winter and early spring yet he chose to risk that promising colt by racing him in prep races and all TC races. That makes him look more lucky than fantastic to me.

      The quality of a trainer should be judged by:

      - how many horses he/she gets each year,
      - how well bred they are or purchase prices,
      - how many make it to the races,
      - earnings per horse based on all horses that trainer gets,
      - how many season and career ending injuries and deaths on/off track suffered by his/her horses.

      We don’t know because racing does not want to know and trainers don’t want us to know the whole picture.

      • http://www.theracehorseexperiment.com/ Maureen Tierney

        Racing any horse at any time is a risk. However, the horse is running better now, so how did Wayne push him too hard?

  • c bea

    Much like Zenyatta in her final race Smith got the best horse beat yesterday. The last time I checked getting your horse out of the gate and in their best position to run their race IS THE RESPONSIBILITY of the JOCKEY!!!

    For Smith to say that the Palace Malice’s break was very very very bad is like saying “He” sucked getting the horse focused for the race prior to the break. Smith is very very very over-rated!!!!!!!

  • c bea

    Verrazano proven to be a pretender. HIs Haskell win was a slow time and a weak field.

  • c bea

    Kudos again to the Coach on Will Take Charge’s victory. If Palace Malice couldn’t win there was no one I wanted to win more than the big horse for Lukas.

  • Ida Lee

    Well, if I would have done what I said I was going to do last week and not watch the Travers, I would not be quite so annoyed right now. BUT NOOOOO!! I watched it…I couldn’t believe that Palace Malice was in the back of the pack when he left the gate…that he made it to 4th place is a testament to his incredible speed; Verrazano looked annoyed to even be in this race and just refused to fire; Orb ran a great race so what the hell happened? and then there’s Moreno…although I love the other guys I would have been quite happy to see him win this one…but he loses by a nose…I feel like kicking something…It’s a good thing Will Take Charge is such a talented pretty boy or I would not put up with this outrage…and congratulations to his young jockey Luis Saez who was so excited he couldn’t even talk.

  • Piquetour

    I am glad that a horse who participated in all three Triple Crown Races won.

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