Sunday, April 28, 2013

Derby Hopeful: Will Take Charge

Derby Hopefuls feature the horses I view as the best contenders leading up to the Kentucky Derby. Each horse spotlighted in a Derby Hopeful will join the 2013 PTG Derby Hopeful roster, found on the right side of the blog. Horses will be listed in an order that corresponds to how highly I think of them, with the horse I think most highly of ranking at the top. A horse featured in a Derby Hopeful may be taken off the roster if its performances after its article are published are not up to par or if that horse is taken off the Triple Crown trail, though those articles will remain on my blog.

Will Take Charge is as royally bred as they come, being not only sired by a champion and top sire, but also being out of a grade one-winning dam of a grade one victor. But even bloodlines so rich do not guarantee they will produce a talented racehorse. However, it has worked for Will Take Charge.

A $425,000 yearling purchase, Will Take Charge is not only beautifully bred, but he is also an absolutely stunning individual. Displaying impressive muscularity, the colt is a breathtaking blaze-faced chestnut with three stockings. But despite his remarkable pedigree and good looks, the colt’s career got off to a rough start – literally. Breaking hesitantly from the gate in his debut at Saratoga, the powerfully-built colt went on to finish fifth.

But a trip to Keeneland in the fall of 2012 saw Will Take Charge capture his first victory as he closed to win by a length in a seven-furlong maiden special weight over the Polytrack. His losing ways returned, however, when he finished last of thirteen in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (GII) at Churchill Downs. In spite of an enviable, rail-skimming trip, the colt was simply outrun.

Shipping to Remington Park for the Springboard Mile Stakes, the D. Wayne Lukas trainee contested the pace before finishing second to a 128-1 longshot, Texas Bling, to close out his juvenile campaign. But Will Take Charge avenged this loss in his sophomore debut approximately six weeks later, defeating Texas Bling by a neck in the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park after tracking the pace.

Still, Will Take Charge had not said goodbye to sound losses. In his following start, the Southwest Stakes (GIII), the colt was defeated by 18 lengths. However, it must be pointed out that this race was contested over a sloppy track he did not take to and the winner – a horse that relished the mud – won the race by 11 ¼ lengths.

Given a chance to redeem himself next out in the Rebel Stakes (GII), Will Take Charge was a bit green leaving the gate but settled in well mid-pack. Using his powerful strides to catch up to the leaders around the far turn, Will Take Charge swung wide as the field turned for home to maneuver traffic. It initially appeared as if the colt would merely hang on the outside, but he kicked into gear just outside the final furlong, gaining ground on his stablemate,
Oxbow, and surpassing him to win by a head. Although the time for the race was very slow, the colt’s determined rally was certainly noteworthy.

Rather than using one more prep race for the Kentucky Derby, Lukas chose to train this horse up to the Derby. This certainly raised an abundance of questions, but you cannot overly criticize a Hall of Fame trainer that has won four Derbies. Furthermore, Will Take Charge has trained powerfully over Churchill Downs surface and seems to take to it better than he did as a two-year-old.

Will Take Charge's pedigree

A son of popular stallion Unbridled's Song, Will Take Charge's sire was fifth in the 1996 Kentucky Derby, bested by about four lengths, and never won beyond nine furlongs. Although his offspring have principally been successful at nine furlongs or less, he has produced a handful of horses that have won at ten furlongs or more, such as Octave - who won the Coaching Club American Oaks (GI, 10F); Grey Song - who won the VRC St. Leger Stakes (GIII, 14F); and Political Force - winner of the Suburban Handicap (GI, 10F). The very prosperous sire has also yielded the ill-fated Derby runner-up Eight Belles and Belmont Stakes (GI, 12F) second-place finisher Dunkirk.

Unbridled's Song is a son of Derby and Breeders' Cup Classic (GI, 10F) champion Unbridled, who produced numerous distance horses, including Banshee Breeze, Empire Maker, Grindstone, Niigon, Smuggler, and Unshaded. Unbridled's Song's broodmare sire is Caro, a leading sire who won several long-distance races, including the mile and three-quarter Prix Dollar (GII), and sired a wealth of successful routers.

Will Take Charge's dam is the multiple grade one-winning Take Charge Lady, who won up to nine furlongs. Another son of this mare left his mark on the Derby trail last year:
Take Charge Indy won the nine-furlong Florida Derby (GI) but finished a disappointing nineteenth in the Run for the Roses, but was discovered to have endured an injury that required surgery.

The sire of Take Charge Lady is Dehere – a son of Deputy Minister, a strong stamina influence. A Canadian Hall of Famer, Deputy Minister has appeared within the first three generations of numerous distance horses, including
Curlin, Paynter, and Rags to Riches. He was a tremendous broodmare sire, producing the dams of many talented distance horses, including the multiple group one-winning Kane Hekili and Sarava, winner of the 2002 Belmont.

The sire of Will Take Charge's granddam is Rubiano, who – although he was a champion sprinter – is a son of Fappiano, the sire of not only Unbridled, but the additional distance horses Cryptoclearance and Defensive Play, as well as the sire of near-Triple Crown winner Real Quiet, Quiet American.

Notably, Will Take Charge's third dam is a daughter of Blushing Groom. A winner of several championship honors as both racehorse and sire, Blushing Groom excelled as a miler but produced many distance horses, including Nashwan, Rainbow Quest, and Runaway Groom - all of which were grade/group one winners at ten furlongs or more. But perhaps Blushing Groom's greatest success came as a broodmare sire, as he is the sire of the dams of a wealth of grade/group one winners, including those that have been victorious at ten furlongs or beyond: Awesome Again, Flute, Haafhd, and Mezzo Soprano.

It is also worth noting that brilliant distance horse and Derby victor Swaps is the sire of Will Take Charge's fourth dam. Swaps produced Derby and Belmont winner Chateaugay, as well as the additional distance horses Primonetta and Tradesman.

Will Take Charge’s pedigree is somewhat on the fence regarding the stamina, but should be sufficient in carrying him over classic distances. Perhaps more worrisome is his inconsistency, his poor finish in his only start at Churchill Downs, and the fact that he is merely training up to the Derby. However, he is trained by one of the most successful trainers in the history of racing and has trained very well beneath the twin spires in the time he has spent there preparing for the Run for the Roses. Will Take Charge will need to give the best effort of his life to be victorious in the Kentucky Derby, but he should not be forgotten or ignored, especially due to his versatility and power.

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