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Dec 06, 2013

Up the Backstretch: Hold off on crowning Horse of the Year

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

 Philadelphia, PA ( - If you thought that the Horse of the Year conversation had been concluded after the Breeders' Cup the first weekend of November, don't count the ballots just yet.

While it still appears that Wise Dan will be named the top thoroughbred of 2013 for the second straight year, 3-year-old Will Take Charge is making a late season charge to have people stop and at least think a little more about their selection.

"He's got to be considered seriously for Horse of the Year, because that was pretty impressive," Hall of Fame trainer Baffert said following last week's Clark Handicap win by D. Wayne Lukas' colt. "The Dude, he ran his race. He brought his 'A' game today, and Will Take Charge still got us. So that's pretty impressive."

For Baffert, trainer of Game On Dude, to say the above about another stable's horse is worth considering when deciding Horse of the Year.

Will Take Charge, owned by Willis Horton, has been improving more than any other 3-year-old in the country since three failed attempts in the Triple Crown. The colt came out of his 10th-place finish in the Belmont Stakes with a second-place result to Palace Malice in the Jim Dandy Stakes and followed with consecutive wins in the Travers and Pennsylvania Derby.

That marked the end of his races against other 3-year-olds. He moved up versus older horses in the Breeders' Cup Classic where he exploded down the track to lose by a nose to Mucho Macho Man in the $5 million race.

"I think the last (29) days since the Breeders' Cup, this horse has really done well and thrived," Lukas noted after winning the Clark at Churchill Downs. "Willis, as game as he is, I'm not so sure we wouldn't have led him over here anyhow."

In the Clark Handicap, Will Take Charge once again came flying down the stretch and was able to get his head on the wire first to record his first victory over older horses.

"If I'm reading the headlines right, Game On Dude was in contention for Horse of the Year," Lukas said. "If that's the case, we just beat a damn nice horse. And we did beat a nice horse today. We beat a damn good horse.

"He's a classy horse and he's gotten the idea of getting up. He seems to know where the wire is."

Will Take Charge has now probably secured the Eclipse Award as champion 3- year-old of 2013, but has he put himself in the discussion for Horse of the Year?

"I don't trust you people. I like to take the argument out of it," Lukas jokingly said about Eclipse Award voting.

The great thing about Will Take Charge that most people should appreciate is the number of races the colt has started. The 3-year-old has been to post 11 times in 2013 and just raced only four weeks after the Breeders' Cup Classic.

"(As a 2-year-old) he was a big, rangy horse that was still trying to find himself. We did the right thing. We had him pointed to the Kentucky Derby and I'll go to my grave believing that we could have won the Kentucky Derby. After that, it set him back a little - that little trip in the Derby didn't equate very good to the Preakness and the Belmont, which came up bang-bang. But then we had a little time to get him right again. I'd like to run the Kentucky Derby over again. With all respect to Shug (McGaughey) and Orb and Stuart (Janney) and Dinny (Phipps) but I really think we had a great shot at it that day."

Unless Lukas and Horton find another stakes in December to start their colt, Will Take Charge is done for the year and his connections have to wait until January for the Eclipse Awards' ceremony.

"You know, one of the things on the decision to run, it works both ways," Lukas said after Will Take Charge won the Clark. "We're standing here on the glow of a win but we could have got beat today and that maybe would have made it more difficult for the (Eclipse Award) voters and made it more difficult for a (breeding) syndication at some place down the road. That was a pretty ballsy move. We stepped right up here and got it done."

Last year the finalists for Horse of the Year included Wise Dan, Kentucky Derby winner I'll Have Another and Classic champ Fort Larned. The unofficial finalists for the 2013 honor include Wise Dan, Mucho Macho Man, Groupie Doll and Will Take Charge.

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