Veteran Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas finished one-two in Saturday's Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, with 28-1 longshot Will Take Charge charging past Oxbow in the final strides to win the $600,000 prep for the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby and subsequent Grade 1 Kentucky Derby. Den's Legacy, one of two entries for fellow Hall of Fame trainer along with 6-5 favorite Super Ninety Nine, finished third, two lengths farther back. Texas Bling finished fourth, with Super Ninety Nine fifth. He was followed by Carve, Title Contender, Treasury Bill, Hardrock Eleven, Stormy Holiday, and Delhomme, who was distanced while making his first start for Todd Pletcher since a close third-place finish in the G2 Remsen in November.
“I felt pretty good 100 yards from the wire,” said Lukas, who was winning the Rebel for the second time (his previous win came with Manastash Ridge in 1989). “The hill's going to get a little steeper now.”
Will Take Charge beat his stablemate by a head, covering the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.18, nearly five second slower than the track record.
A 3-year-old colt by Unbridled's Song out of Grade 1-winning Dehere mare Take Charge Lady (who finished second by a head to reigning Horse of the Year Azeri in Oaklawn's 2003 G1 Apple Blossom Handicap), Will Take Charge was winning for the third time in seven career starts. Earlier in the Oaklawn Park meeting, Will Take Charge captured the Smarty Jones Stakes by a neck over Texas Bling, but was trounced on a sloppy track by Super Ninety Nine in the more recent G3 Southwest Stakes.
“Will Take Charge is a fair weather horse,” Lukas said. “He didn't feel like running in the slop last time.”
Jon Court rode both Will Take Charge and Oxbow in their last two starts, but ended up on the longshot for the Rebel, with Hall of Famer rider Mike Smith flying in from California to ride Oxbow, who was 7-2.
“Wayne told me how well he's been doing and he had him tuned up today,” said Court. “The race was executed to plan. It worked out perfectly. I was able to position him where we wanted. He was very professional today.”
Will Take Charge was bred in Kentucky by Eaton and races for Willis D. Horton, who purchased him for $425,000 from Hill ‘n' Dale Sales Agency, agent, at the 2011 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. He is a half-brother to 2012 G1 Florida Derby winner Take Charge Indy.
Title Contender went to the front early, serving as expected as a pace challenger to Super Ninety Nine as an entrymate with late-running Treasury Bill. He went the opening quarter mile in :23.36 and the half in :47.19, under pressure from Super Ninety Nine, who moved to the lead approaching the far turn, with six furlongs clocked in 1:12.39. But Super Ninety Nine began to weaken and Den's Legacy scooted up the rail to vie for command with Oxbow, who had been forwardly placed early by Smith. Those two battled for the lead into the final furlong, the mile in 1:38.44, but Will Take Charge, who was sixth in the early going and rallied wide into the final turn, ran them both down to get the win.
Owner Willis Horton is a native of Marshall, Ark., north of Little Rock. His family's home-building business took him to Atlanta, Ga., but he's returned to his home town. A longtime client of Lukas, his biggest win came in the 2006 Kentucky Oaks with Lemons Forever, who was trained by former Lukas assistant Dallas Stewart. He's never had a starter in the Kentucky Derby, a situation that could change in 2013.
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