The journey that led to the most important victory of his career came last winter at Gulfstream Park when suddenly “the Calder jock” was beginning to lay it on the big boys, and horsemen were beginning to notice.
In the winners’ circle one afternoon, Phil Gleaves, once Woody Stephens #1 exercise rider and now a successful Florida horseman who once won the Travers with slop loving Wise Times, gave me a scoop.
“This kid is coming to New York this spring and he’s going to take the place by storm,” Gleaves said. “He’s one of the best riders in America that no one’s ever heard of.”
Fitting Jim Dandy runnerup Will Take Charge perfectly and riding him masterfully after being named on the colt just 72 hours before the 144th renewal of Saratoga’s Derby of Midsummer, the team got up in the last jump to nail Jim Dandy third, Moreno, on the line.
Kentucky Derby winner and Triple Crown combatant Orb ran a winning race making an inside rally—not his favorite spot—and looked like the winner of his second “Derby” this year but tired in the final hundred yards and settled for third.
Jim Dandy winner Palace Malice was close behind in fourth and, from a trips perspective, might have been best. Stumbling at the start while breaking flat footed, he was sloughed in the first 50 yards when Transparent was angled inside by Irad Ortiz and, with War Dancer holding a straight course from inside those two, made themselves a Palace Malice sandwich.
Up front, meanwhile, not much was happening. Moreno went to the lead as expected, but a lot slower than anyone thought possible—a half-mile in nearly 49 seconds over a lightning fast track.
Favorite Verrazano was stalking comfortably, although a tad farther back than anticipated considering the soft pace. Orb was racing close up inside of horses while Romansh was on the pace battling between leaders.
The race began in earnest on the far turn. Ortiz finally asked Moreno for a little more speed and he got it. In fact, the second half mile, which carried the field to the top of the stretch, was faster than the first half--:48.51 as opposed to :48.88.
Ortiz allowed Moreno to drift into the three-path, Orb came through with an inside two-path rally, Palace Malace, who had one horse beaten after the first six furlongs, commenced a wide rally that carried him nearly six wide at headstretch.
The winner, meanwhile, reserved under a relaxed hold, began his drive that carried him into the four-path with a quarter mile remaining. Then he began grinding it out; fifth, then third, while Orb seized a short lead from near the fence.
Moreno was resurgent off his measured pace, Orb was beginning to tire and Palace Malace was finishing relentlessly, although never looking the part of a winner.
Will Take Charge’s longer nose was the difference between consecutive Travers’ dead heats. Moreno was 3/4s of a length to the good of Orb, who lasted for third by a nose over Palace Malice, who wound up beaten a length with what was for him, completely unorthodox circumstances.
“At the three-eighths pole, I thought we’ll get a piece of it,” said Wayne Lukas, who can add the name of Will Take Charge to Thunder Gulch and Corporate Report, his first two Travers winners.
“I changed up a [few] things. I took a chance on an up-and-coming rider.”
This was the second time Will Take Charge won a stakes this season after changing riders and the fourth time in as many races that a change was made. It was Saez’ first ever Travers mount.
Junior Alvarado was aboard Will Take Charge for his Jim Dandy placing and did nothing wrong but also rode Optimizer for Lukas in last week’s Sword Dancer. After racing wide throughout, Alvarado eased Optimizer and he was beaten off. The horse walked off the racetrack in no obvious distress.
"It's not anything; I just think sometimes the karma is wrong," Lukas said after Wednesday’s post draw. "I've had good luck with certain riders. I didn't feel real comfortable with where I was at with Junior, so I made the change."
“Last time when he finished second,” Saez said, “I saw the replays and I knew how to ride him. I tried to ride him like he runs.
“I want to say thanks to God, Mr. Lukas and everyone who’s coming here to see these champions,” all 47,597 who helped contribute to a record all-sources handle of $41,363,760.
That’s a lot of karma.
The Old In-Out in the King's Bishop
There are different kinds of race horses: champions, nice horses, also-rans, morning glories... Then there's the ever popular in-and-outer. Sorry, but that's as clever as it gets when Capo Bastone finishes like a rocket to take the Grade 1 King's Bishop, reeling in the very speedy Mentor Cane who out-sped all the speedsters signed on.
As it turns out, Todd Pletcher, had the race surrounded. There was favorite Forty Tales, a winner of the Amsterdam prep for this; Overanalyze, the Arkansas Derby winner that might have been worth a flyer on the turn-back, and Capo Bastone, who just missed winning the G3 Derby Trial. Capo Bastone, who never hinted at being a Grade 1 talent beyond his juvenile season; Capo Bastone, the in-and-outer.
In his three year old season, it was good race, bad race, good race, bad race, then yesterday.
Beneath Irad Ortiz Jr., who with brother Jose Ortiz have had a Saratoga to remember, Capo Bastone roared down the center of the course and blew passed Mentor Cane in the shadow of the finish line. Central Banker came from well back himself to finish third.
Forty Tales, without regular partner Joel Rosario, who shattered his ankle in an incident Friday. Leparoux, who won the Test, filled in ably but could finish no better than fourth on the multiple stakes winner.
The Test a Real Lu-Lu
I’m sure there will be a consensus among the wise guy clan that the Test didn’t turn out to be a true Grade 1 event because speed was holding in sprints all day and the final furlong was timed in little than a glacial 13 2/5.
Those are the facts, of course, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Those kinds of facts seldom do.
But for the undefeated Sweet Lulu to extend her undefeated career to four straight without defeat, she had to survive a strong first half-mile challenged from the bullet-like Baby J, withstand the late running co-favorite My Happy Face, and out-gut the perfect tripping speedster Wildcat Lily.
And did we mention it was her first lifetime start on God’s dirt?
"She trained on dirt as a two year old," Hollendorfer said post-race.
The victory, engineered by the California-based Hall of Famer Jerry Hollandorfer and jockey Julien Leparoux, not generally known as a partner of speed types, was well earned.
The tandem sat off the speedster until the right moment to present herself in front, was challenged from the outside through the lane, but dug down deep to pass the eyeball test.
That makes four wins on three disparate surfaces, Cushion Track, the closest synthetic there is to dirt, and Del Mar’s Polytrack, and four different distances.
"I was a little concerned when she got headed, then Julien rode hard, she came back, fought back, and won."