Eclipse Champion Alert and Bright After 20-hour Van Ride from Oaklawn

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Champion Will Take Charge arrived by van early Tuesday morning at Gulfstream Park, where the D. Wayne Lukas-trained 4-year-old star is slated to make his 2014 debut in Sunday’s $500,000 Donn Handicap (G1).

The son of Unbridled Song, who was named last year’s champion 3-year-old at the Eclipse Awards ceremony at Gulfstream Park last month, appeared alert and bright after his journey from Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark.

“He handled the trip great. It’s unbelievable how good he is. It took us 20 hours and 20 minutes to get here, and you’d never know it to look at him,” said John Sica, the Lukas assistant who drove the van that delivered the likely favorite for Sunday’s 1 1/8-mile handicap. “He has a great mind.”

Lukas, the five-time Eclipse Award winner who has saddled four Kentucky Derby champions and 14 winners of Triple Crown events overall, is expected to be at Gulfstream on Friday, Sica said.

As the 123-pound highweight, Will Take Charge will concede at least four pounds to his Donn rivals, expected to include Louisiana Derby (G2) winner Revolutionary (119), Hal’s Hope (G3) victor Lea (117), Harlan’s Holiday winner River Seven (116), Indiana Derby (G2) hero Neck ‘n Neck (116) and Discovery Handicap (G3) winner Romansh (116). The 59th running of the Donn Handicap will be nationally televised by Fox Sports 1 (5-6:30 p.m.), kicking off “The Jockey Club Tour on Fox” series.

Will Take Charge is stabled in Barn 2 with former Lukas assistant Todd Pletcher’s Gulfstream division, two barns away from Mucho Macho Man, who nosed him out of a victory in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Santa Anita on Nov. 2. The Lukas-trained colt had previously captured the Travers (G1) at Saratoga and the Pennsylvania Derby (G2) at Parx. He concluded his championship season with a triumph over older rivals in the Clark Handicap (G1) at Churchill Downs on Nov. 29.

“He is such a good horse,” Sica said. “His mother was a really good horse; his brother won the Florida Derby.”

The breeding of Will D. Horton’s champion would certainly suggest that the Kentucky-bred colt will be well-suited to the Gulfstream surface. His dam, multiple Grade 1-stakes winner Take Charge Lady, produced Take Charge Indy, who captured the 2012 Florida Derby (G1) for trainer Patrick Byrne. His sire, Unbridled’s Song, was a Florida Derby winner for trainer James Ryerson, defeating the Lukas-trained Editor’s Note by more than five lengths in 1996.

Will Take Charge is scheduled to walk Wednesday before getting acquainted with the Gulfstream racetrack Thursday morning.