It looks like the Pennsylvania Derby will serve as a rematch between Travers winner Will Take Charge and runner-up Moreno, who lost in the last jump at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday.
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas said the Sept. 21 race at Parx makes a lot of sense for Will Take Charge in his quest to solidify a spot among the top 3-year-olds in the country.
The other race that is drawing attention is the Sept. 29 Jockey Club Gold Cup against older horses at Belmont Park.
Each has a purse of $1 million, but the Jockey Club Gold Cup is a Grade I and the Parx stakes is a Grade II.
“The Pennsylvania Derby is a very logical spot,” Lukas said. “It’s a month away. It’s synthetic, but we ran one of our best races on a synthetic with this horse when he broke his maiden, so the million dollars is appealing.
“The only thing is I wish it was a Grade I. If it was a Grade I, it would be a no-brainer, but the Jockey Club would be another one where you get an extra week of time and the prestige of maybe beating older. If you beat older, it moves you up in the championship series.”
Lukas said he’ll wait a week or so before making a final decision with owner Willis Horton.
Wherever they go, Lukas is eager to get his Unbridled’s Song colt back in a race, because he’s finally maturing and filling out into a frame that stands over 17 hands.
“The horse pulled up beautifully, his energy level, everything. Geez, I was really pleased with the way he came back,” Lukas said.
“During the Triple Crown, he was very immature. He’s such a big, rangy horse. I backed off and gave him that five-week break that one time because I thought he was lightening up on us. But he’s now getting stronger and maturing. I feel better about him every day. But not many of them went through that grind and ended up as well as he has. So it’s a great tribute to the horse, and I think all the best is in front of this horse. He’s getting his stride down and quickening and getting more explosive. I like what I see.”
Will Take Charge was one of three colts to compete in all three legs of the Triple Crown.
The others were Kentucky Derby winner Orb, who was third in the Travers, and Will Take Charge’s stablemate Oxbow, who won the Preakness, but missed the Travers with an ankle injury. Lukas said there’s a good chance Oxbow will come back to race as a 4-year-old.
In the wake of the disappointing injury to Oxbow, Will Take Charge has emerged as a colt with some momentum heading into a fall season that will determine the 3-year-old male championship.
“I’m looking forward to leading these horses again, and I’m sure some of those that got beat said, ‘Look, we’re looking forward to taking on Will Take Charge again,’ ” Lukas said. “So it will sort itself out. But in the meantime, we’ll have a lot of fun massaging it and trying to figure out what it should be.
“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, actually.”
One horse who likely will be taking on Will Take Charge again shortly is Moreno.
It was easy to pigeonhole trainer Eric Guillot as a sideshow for his wisecracking Cajun manner, but he did a terrific job getting Moreno to the Travers and devising a gameplan that was a photo finish away from being a winning one.
“I think you’ve got to go to the Pennsylvania Derby for a million, don’t you?” he said.
He’s been fielding questions about Moreno’s Breeders’ Cup prospects, and believes that the mile-and-quarter Classic is better suited for the front-running Moreno than the Dirt Mile.
“I think when you go to the Dirt Mile, he’s not going to get the lead,” Guillot said. “I’m not big on numbers and handicapping, but I’ve been doing this long enough to know how horses run and how inner fractions make races. If I run him in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, they’re going press him the whole way or in front of him the whole way.
“A mile and a quarter, with that high cruising speed, why would I go a mile, when he got beat a lip by a closer at a mile and a quarter? It doesn’t make much sense to me. You know I’m from Louisiana and haven’t read a book since fifth grade . . . don’t ever, ever confuse education for intelligence. That’s the problem with this world.”
Trainer Todd Pletcher said he’s willing to chalk up Palace Malice’s fourth in the Travers to the slow break he got out of the gate, but still wasn’t sure why Verrazano ran so poorly. He was seventh of nine.
“He had very good tactical
position,” Pletcher said. “Johnny [Velazquez] got him where he needed to be, and then when he got up around the half-mile pole, he didn’t get the response we were looking for.
“Any time after a race, you don’t just look at that one but their entire body of work. The horse is still 6-for-8 and a multiple Grade I winner, so we’re disappointed in yesterday’s performance, but we’re not disappointed in the horse.”
He said both horses will be candidates for races like the Pennsylvania Derby and Jockey Club Gold Cup.