While the last two big Kentucky Derby preps will be held at Keeneland and Oaklawn Park this weekend, they’ll have to share the spotlight with a juicy matchup pitting two prominent horses from last year’s 3-year-old crop.
Eclipse Award winner Will Take Charge and Moreno will square off in the Oaklawn Handicap one race prior to the Arkansas Derby today.
This will be the third race involving the two since Will Take Charge beat Moreno in the Travers at Saratoga Race Course, which led to controversy a week later when Moreno’s trainer, Eric Guillot, accused Will Take Charge’s jockey, Luis Saez, of using an illegal electronic device in the race.
Saez was cleared of wrongdoing, and Guillot later apologized to trainer D. Wayne Lukas at the Breeders’ Cup, where both horses ran in the Classic.
This will be the fifth overall meeting between the two horses, although their career paths have diverged.
Moreno hasn’t raced since finishing 10th to Mucho Macho Man in the Classic.
Will Take Charge, meanwhile, has emeged as one of the top older horses in the country.
After rallying to miss by a nose to Mucho Macho Man in the BC Classic, Will Take Charge became a two-time Grade I winner when he took the Clark at Churchill Downs to close his 3-year-old season and clinch the Eclipse Award.
He opened his 4-year-old campaign by finishing second to Lea as the 3-2 favorite in the Donn Handicap, and finished second to Game On Dude by a length and three-quarters in the Santa Anita Handicap, as Mucho Macho Man finished fourth.
The other two races involving Will Take Charge and Moreno were a 2-3 finish for them behind Palace Malice in the Jim Dandy and Will Take Charge’s impressive win in the Pennsylvania Derby.
The Oaklawn Handicap is anything but a two-horse race.
Trainer Todd Pletcher is well-equipped to win the race with the 1-2 punch of Revolutionary and Golden Lad.
“I have a lot of respect for Will Take Charge and how good he is, especially on his home track,” Pletcher told the Oaklawn press office. “It’s a tall order, but we felt like it was the right spot for our two horses and we’ll hope for the best.”
Revolutionary, winner of the Withers and Louisiana Derby last year before finishing third in the Kentucky Derby, was seventh to Will Take Charge in the Donn.
Golden Lad has won four straight, most recently the Razorback by seven lengths at Oaklawn.
“We’re very pleased with the way Golden Lad handled the track there and he seems to be improving all the time,” Pletcher said. “This will be his toughest test to date, but based on the strength of his performance in the Razorback, this seems to be the logical next step for him.”
WISE DAN BACK
For the fourth year in a row, two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan opened his season with an April win at Keeneland on Friday.
He pulled away from Lochte at the eighth pole and easily held off long shot Kaigun to win the Maker’s 46.
Ridden by John Velazquez, Wise Dan angled to the outside on the backstretch and as part of a five-horse wall approaching the middle of the turn before taking command at the top of the stretch.
Hopeful winner Strong Mandate will take one more crack at solidifying a spot in the Kentucky Derby field by running in the Arkansas Derby as the 9-2 third choice in a field of nine, while Mechanicville’s Chad Brown has the 3-1 favorite Bobby’s Kitten in a full field of 14, with one also-eligible, in the Blue Grass at Keeneland.
Southwest winner Tapiture, who was second by a half-length to Hoppertunity in the Rebel, is the slight 9-5 favorite in the Arkansas Derby.
Also back from the Rebel are Strong Mandate, who was fourth, and third-place finisher Ride on Curlin.
Lightly raced Bayern, trained by Bob Baffert, is the 2-1 second choice after winning a first-level allowance by 15 lengths at Santa Anita.
“You don’t really know how good he is until you run in this kind of race,” Baffert’s assistant, Jimmy Barnes, told Oaklawn Park. “He needs to continue on. If he does carry on in his third race like he has in his first two, he’s pretty good. It’s time for him to step up now, but he had his two-turn race and he handled that. This is our next step.”
The Blue Grass is worth 100 Kentucky Derby qualifying points, but it doesn’t appear that Bobby’s Kitten will use that with the Derby in mind.
This will be his first race on anything but turf in six career starts.
He broke his maiden at Saratoga last summer and won the Grade III Pilgrim before finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.
He opened 2014 with a win at a mile on the turf at Tampa Bay.
Hall of Fame jockey Edgar Prado will be out of action after suffering a hairline fracture in his neck during training at Keeneland on Thursday.
Prado was hurt when the horse he was working hit him in the face with the back of the head, and Prado was knocked unconscious when he hit the deck, agent Bob Klesaris told Blood-Horse magazine.
Jose Lezcano was also hurt when his horse was involved in the incident, but should be back this weekend after taking off his mounts on Friday.