The outcome of the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby on March 10 did nothing to make trainer Patrick Byrne second guess the decision to skip it in favor of the Grade 1, $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on March 31.
When Prospective and Golden Ticket finished first and second, respectively, from post positions 1 and 2, the results supported the fears of Byrne and owners Chuck and Maribeth Sandford that Take Charge Indy would have been at too much of a disadvantage breaking from post.10.
"The first two horses inside were first and second. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that one out. My horse probably would have been fine, but we're not looking back," said Byrne, who trains the son of A.P. Indy at Palm Meadows Training Center. "We're looking forward and happy to be in the Florida Derby."
Take Charge Indy made his 2012 debut at Gulfstream Park on January 29, finishing second behind El Padrino, the next-out winner of the Grade 2 Risen Star at Fair Grounds. After pressing the early pace, the Kentucky-bred colt opened up a three-length lead only to be caught in the stretch. He finished two lengths behind the Todd Pletcher-trained El Padrino, but nearly 14 lengths clear of the third-place finisher.
"It was a muddy racetrack. It didn't really hurt us, but I think it really helped the Pulpit colt (El Padrino), but he's a nice colt. If he runs back in the Florida Derby, I don't know if we can beat him, but maybe later in the year," Byrne said. "The more time my horse gets, the better he's going to be."
Out of Take Charge Lady, a multiple Grade 1-winning mare with earnings of nearly $2.5 million, Take Charge Indy is expected to get better with longer distances.
"That's the other part of the equation. He'll be going a mile and an eighth at Gulfstream as opposed to a mile and a sixteenth at Tampa Bay," Byrne said.
Take Charge Indy debuted at Arlington Park last July with a 6 1/2-length victory before making the jump to graded company in his next three starts. After finishing second in the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Futurity, he ran fourth in the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland. The dark bay concluded his 2011 season at Churchill Downs with a troubled fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile behind Hansen, who prevailed by a head over previously undefeated Union Rags.
"He hit the rail in the first turn, but that's racing. He was six lengths off Union Rags. I think we'll improve into his three-year-old season," Byrne said.
While Hansen will prep for the Kentucky Derby in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 7, Union Rags, trained by Michael Matz, will present an imposing challenge for Take Charge Indy in the Florida Derby, which could also attract El Padrino and the Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Alpha, among others. Byrne expects Take Charge Indy to be ready to take on the iron of the three-year-old division.
"He's a smart colt. He's battle-tested to a degree," Byrne said. "I have all the respect in the world for El Padrino, who ran me down pretty good, and Michael's colt -- everybody knows about him. There are also other nice horses in the race. Kiaran McLaughlin's horse is a nice horse, if he runs. But my horse did show that he likes Gulfstream and we're here."
Byrne will train Take Charge Indy expecting that his colt will face nothing but the best in he Florida Derby.
"It's a million-dollar race, they're all running for the same reason I'm running my colt. My horse is a nice colt and very well seasoned," Byrne said. "He'll have two more breezes -- he'll breeze this weekend, Saturday or Sunday -- and we'll be ready to go."