SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — Will Take Charge waited until the final stride to get a nose past long shot Moreno and pull off a surprising victory in the $1 million Travers Stakes on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.
Belmont Stakes winner and Dogwood Stable-owned Palace Malice, who won the Jim Dandy at Saratoga on July 27, stumbled at the start and wound up fourth.
Verrazano, the Haskell winner and 8-5 favorite, was seventh in the field of nine.
Palace Malice was last after a quarter-mile and eighth at the three-quarter pole before making a move heading into the stretch. He finished a nose behind Kentucky Derby winner Orb for third after racing five-wide into the stretch.
“He broke really, really, really bad,” jockey Mike Smith said of Palace Malice. “What am I going to do? I cannot go for the lead. All I could do is sit back there, creep up, creep up, creep up and see if I could get him there. I thought I still had it for a little bit there, but it was just too much to make up.”
“Mike thought he was much the best; the break killed him. It’s horse racing,’’ trainer Todd Pletcher said. “We would have liked to have won it, but we’ve had a great meet and we’re not going to cry about it. We’ll regroup and try again.”
The win by Will Take Charge gave Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas his third victory in racing’s Mid-Summer Derby and first since 1995.
Lukas called a jockey audible during the week and chose 21-year-old Luis Saez over Junior Alvarado to ride Will Take Charge, who was second to Palace Malice in the Jim Dandy.
“I took a chance on an up-and-coming rider,” Lukas said. You look terrible if it doesn’t work, but it’s sweet if it does.
“I thought my horse trained well, but these things are so tough. This is a horse who is going to get better. He’s getting his act together.”
Will Take Charge, the 9-1 fourth choice, ran 1¼ miles in 2:02.68, and paid $21.20, $8.60 and $5.20. Moreno, with Jose Ortiz aboard, returned $25.40
and $8.60. Orb, with Jose Lezcano up, paid $4.30 to show.
Romansh was fifth, followed by War Dancer, Verrazano, Golden Soul and Transparent.
As expected Moreno led from the start and still held the lead heading into the stretch. On the inside, though, Orb made his move for the front. But Will Take Charge came barreling down the stretch, pulled even with Moreno on the outside in the final yards and nudged ahead at the wire.
“I want to say thanks to God, Lukas and everyone who’s coming here to see these champions,” Saez said after his first Travers ride. “Last time, when he finished second (in the Jim Dandy), I saw the replays and I knew how to ride him.”
Eric Guillot, who trains Moreno, thought his gelding just might pull off a huge upset.
“Brutal, huh?” he asked. “Last jump. He couldn’t have done any better.”
Will Take Charge earned $600,000 for owner Willis Horton, and increased his career earnings to $1,265,371 with his fourth win in 12 starts.
A few days before the Travers, Lukas talked about how much he enjoys competing in the top races.
“I love the big ones,” he said. “I love to get in that main arena and try to pull it off.”
He did it again in the Travers.
On the undercard, 28-1 shot Capo Bastone won the $500,000 King’s Bishop, Sweet Lulu took the $500,000 Test Stakes, and Laughing won the $250,000 Ballston Spa.