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By Tom Pedulla, America’s Best Racing

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – When Will Take Charge finished 10th in the Belmont Stakes, 17 gaping lengths behind victorious Palace Malice, owner Willis Horton informed D. Wayne Lukas in no uncertain terms that he needed to try something different. The Hall of Fame trainer assured him that would happen.

The reward came at an optimal time as Will Take Charge, appearing to benefit from a new rider and an equipment change, unleashed a gallant late surge to barely overtake front-running Moreno and earn a dramatic upset in the 144th Travers Stakes on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.

Lukas, 77, gained his third triumph in the famed “mid-summer Derby” following the successes of Corporate Report (1991) and Thunder Gulch (1995). But he said of his latest score, “This is our best training job.”

After the dismal Belmont showing, Lukas removed Will Take Charge’s blinkers and changed riders from Jon Court to Junior Alvarado in getting a significantly better runner-up performance to Palace Malice in the Jim Dandy Stakes. He again switched jockeys, moving from Alvarado to Luis Saez, who could not have been more grateful to nudge ahead in a scintillating photo finish.

“I want to say thanks to God, Lukas and everyone who’s coming here to see these champions,” he said. “This horse was training good.

“Last time, when he finished second, I saw the replays and I knew how to ride him. I tried to ride him like he runs.”


Inside Travers

Photo courtesy of Horsephotos.com

Will Take Charge apparently needed time to grow into his body, which now exceeds 17 hands. He snapped a four-race losing streak with his first victory since a head decision in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., on March 16. He had encountered traffic trouble when he ran eighth in the Kentucky Derby. The chestnut son of Unbridled’s Song was no better than seventh when Oxbow gave Lukas his 14th win in a Triple Crown race – allowing him to surpass James “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons for the all-time lead – in the Preakness.

Now, his name must be added to the list of 3-year-olds who can still emerge with year-end championship honors.

“I think it puts it in turmoil,” Lukas said of that increasingly complex race in the 3-year-old male division. “It’s upside down.”

Orb, the Kentucky Derby victor, took third in his first start since the Belmont Stakes on June 8.

“We got him back on the right track,” trainer Shug McGaughey said, “and now we’ll point for something else.”

Palace Malice stumbled at the outset, dropped back to last of nine early and settled for fourth.

In other major races on the Travers undercard:

Test Stakes: Sweet Lulu, in extending her perfection to 4-for-4, met a huge challenge in her first try on dirt when she edged Wildcat Lily by a head for jockey Julien Leparoux.

Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer acknowledged he made a high-risk, high-reward decision in shipping the 3-year-old daughter of Mr. Greeley away from their West Coast base, where she had rattled off three victories on synthetic surfaces by a combined margin of 10 ¼ lengths.

“She’s done everything I’ve asked her to do,” Hollendorfer said. “I didn’t know if I should ship her this soon and come back here and try this, but she was doing so well and showing speed and this is a Grade 1 and a very important race for her pedigree, so we decided to try it.”

My Happy Face, from Chad Brown’s stable, was an unlucky third when she and jockey Mike Smith were forced extremely wide around the turn for home.

Ballston Spa Stakes: Laughing, with jockey Jose Lezcano perfectly managing her early speed, outdueled Pianist to the finish line and made it three successive victories when she added the Ballston Spa to earlier successes in the Grade 1 Diana Stakes and the Eatontown Handicap at Monmouth.

“She’s real healthy now and I think she’ll be a pretty good force in the filly and mare division,” trainer Alan Goldberg said in a telephone interview. “She’s pretty tough.”


Laughing -Outside -Eclipse

Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire

King’s Bishop Stakes: Capo Bastone, a distant seventh in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens Stakes in his previous start, rebounded strongly to deliver at odds of 28-1 when he overtook Mentor Cane by two lengths.

Although Capo Bastone had won only once in four previous starts this season since moving from the barn of West Coast-based John Sadler to that of Todd Pletcher, Pletcher was undeterred in aiming high with this spot.

“It seemed like everything was gelling at the right time and he was sitting on a good one,” Pletcher said. “So we felt like, ‘Let’s try a big one.’

“It seems like he has found his niche. I think he gets a mile, no problem, but this was a good set up for him.”

For Equibase charts, click here.


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