The narrow loss to Mucho Macho Man in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (Grade I) at Santa Anita by Willis D. Horton’s Will Take Charge might not be the final race of the year for the late-blooming 3-year-old star.
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who guided the son of Unbridled’s Song through an impressive second half of 2013 that included victories in the Travers (GI) and Pennsylvania Derby (GI), said Wednesday that Will Take Charge could wrap-up his racing season in the $500,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) at Churchill Downs.
Lukas described Will Take Charge as “possible” for the Clark.
The 139th running of the Clark, a 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds and up that shares its history with the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) and the Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI), will be run in its traditional Friday-after-Thanksgiving spot on the calendar on Nov. 29.
“We may run him one more time, since it’s a Grade I,” Lukas said. “I think we’re in good shape anyhow. Most people I’ve talked to in the press think he’s champion (3-year-old male). If he wins the Clark, it would probably put the icing on the cake.”
Lukas said Will Take Charge would be nominated to the Clark prior to the Nov. 13 deadline. His runner-up finish in the Classic left the colt’s career record to 5-3-0 in 14 races and boosted his earnings to $2,727,371.
“It broke my heart,” Lukas said. “I just stood there and said, ‘How could he get that close and not win it?’ (Belmont Stakes winner) Palace Malice cost us the race. He bore us out real bad, bumped us and pushed us way out on the turn and we had to recover from that.”
A victory in the Clark Handicap wrapped-up an Eclipse Award championship for a Lukas star in 2000. After Overbrook Farm’s Surfside finished second to Lukas-trained stablemate Spain in that year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Churchill Downs, Lukas wheeled the regally-bred daughter of 1978 Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew out of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) winner Flanders back against males in that year’s Clark, which was then a Grade II race.
She won the Clark by four lengths to conclude a campaign for which she was named the year’s champion 3-year-old filly.
Lukas said 2-year-old star Strong Mandate is not a candidate for the $175,000-added Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) at Churchill Downs on Saturday, Nov. 30. Robert C. Baker and William L. Mack’s son of Tiznow finished third to New Year’s Day in last Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) at Santa Anita.
Lukas said Strong Mandate, the winner of Saratoga’s Hopeful (GI), would be pointed for a spring campaign that would begin at Oaklawn Park. The colt concluded his juvenile season with a record of 2-0-1 in five races with earnings of $432,900.
LIFE WITHOUT FORT LARNED UNDERWAY FOR WILKES – The return to his longtime home at Churchill Downs was very brief for Fort Larned following his strong fourth-place run behind Reeves Thoroughbred Racing’s victorious Mucho Macho Man in his bid for a second consecutive victory in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) at Santa Anita.
Janice Whitham’s 5-year-old homebred arrived in Louisville late Sunday and settled briefly into his stall in the barn of trainer Ian Wilkes. By midmorning on Monday, Fort Larned was on a van that carried him to a new home at Adena Springs Farm near Lexington and his second career as a stallion.
“I emailed Mrs. Whitham and said it was a sad day, but a happy day,” Wilkes recalled. “You never want to see it end with a good horse, because they’re hard to find. But then we were happy to see him leaving the barn sound, happy and going to his new career. Now we’ll just look forward to his babies, and hopefully he’ll do us proud in the breeding shed.”
The departure of Fort Larned, who earned $4,471,322 while winning 10 of 25 races for Larned, created a huge vacancy in Wilkes stable. The end of his racing career was clearly a bittersweet moment for those close to him, but Wilkes was proud of his star’s final run in Saturday’s memorable Classic, a race in which Fort Larned set the pace under pressure before giving way with just over a furlong to run.
The horses that attempted to run with Fort Larned the Classic were not up to the task. Favored Game On Dude faded to ninth, while the 3-year-old Moreno ended up 10th in the field of 11.
“I’m proud of him,” Wilkes said. “He ran unbelievable. He just didn’t get a breather. Last year he went the same fractions, but he was able get out there and coast alone. There was a lot more pressure this year.”
Wilkes viewed the result as further evidence of the superiority of the older horses that campaigned in the eastern U.S. – a group that included the victorious Mucho Macho Man and runner-up Will Take Charge.
Look what Mucho Macho Man did when he went out there and won the (Grade I) Awesome Again,’ Wilkes said. “None of the West Coast horses finished close to us.”
Fort Larned made his bid for back-to-back wins in the Classic following a hard-luck season during which Wilkes had to do considerable ad-libbing to get his star back to Santa Anita. While the result was not what Wilkes had hoped, he believes that Fort Larned’s Classic run should have proved to any remaining doubters that his 2012 Classic win and other Grade I victories in the Saratoga’s Whitney and Churchill Downs’ Stephen Foster Handicap were true indications of his horse’s talent and ability.
“I think it validated a lot of things,” Wilkes said. “His Classic win was not a one-race performance. This year was a real roller-coaster ride, but that’s part of racing. He was a special horse.”
While Fort Larned has moved on, Wilkes still has a talented older horse in his care in A. Stevens Miles’ 4-year-old Neck ‘n Neck, who won the Indiana Derby (GII) and Churchill Downs’ Ack Ack Handicap (GIII) at age 3 before he went to the sidelines after being injured while training for the Clark Handicap.
Wilkes hopes to have Neck ‘n Neck ready for a bid for this year’s Clark Handicap, which will be run Nov. 29, but he feels the colt needs a prep race prior to that 1 1/8-mile test. He returned to racing on Oct. 5 with a third-place run in the Michael G. Schaefer Memorial at Indiana Downs, but Wilkes has been frustrated so far in efforts to find an allowance prep to prepare Neck ‘n Neck for the Clark.
“I can’t get a race to fill for him,” Wilkes said. “I don’t want to sit there and train him for nine weeks since his last race. That’s no good.”
Neck ‘n Neck is entered in Saturday’s second race at Churchill Downs, but that is a one-mile race scheduled for the Matt Winn Turf Course and he will run in that race only if it is moved from the turf to the main tack because of weather or course conditions.
BARN TALK - Charles Cella’s Cyber Secret, an upset winner over Fort Larned in the 2013 Oaklawn Handicap (GII), is set to return from six months on the sidelines in Saturday’s second race, a one-mile allowance run on the Matt Winn Turf Course. The Lynn Whiting-trained Cyber Secret tuned-up for his return with a four-furlong breeze in :49.20 over firm turf on Tuesday. The 4-year-old son of Broken Vow has been away from competition since he was disqualified to eighth following a runner-up finish to Take Charge Indy as the favorite in the Alysheba (GII) at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks Day. Cyber Secret has won six of 15 races with earnings of $555,963. … Another Saturday returnee is Chuck and Maribeth Sandford LLC’s Almost Famous, who is entered in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race by trainer Pat Byrne following a disappointing fourth-place run in the $60,000 Street Sense Overnight Stakes on the Oct. 27 “Stars of Tomorrow” program that opened the 2013 Fall Meet. The son of Unbridled’s Song was purchased by the Sandfords for $500,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Florida 2-year-old sale in March. Corey Lanerie will be the third rider in as many races for Almost Famous, who has drawn the rail post against nine rives in the 1 1/16-mile contest that will be his first effort at a two-turn distance. … The Tuesday work tab featured moves by a couple of notables from the barn of trainer Steve Asmussen. Ron Winchell’s 2-year-old Tapiture, who finished a troubled third behind Cleburne in the Iroquois (GIII) on Sept. 7, breezed a half-mile in :52.40 over a fast surface. He finished third in a subsequent outing at Churchill Downs in a one-mile race on the Oct. 27 “Stars of Tomorrow” program and remains winless in three races. Cathy and Bob Zollars’ Daddy Nose Best, 10th in the 2012 Kentucky Derby and winner of the Remington Green Stakes and Edward J. DeBartolo Memorial at Remington Park in his last two outings, breezed six furlongs “around the dogs” on firm turf in 1:19.40.