Prior to Saturday's Grade 1, $1 million Florida Derby, three-time Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Calvin Borel had won less than a handful of races through the first three months of 2012. Meanwhile, trainer Pat Byrne, best known for training juvenile champions Favorite Trick and Countess Diana, as well as Breeders' Cup Classic winner Awesome Again, was experiencing a stakes drought going on seven years.
"The past two years, I kind of wasn't feeling that great," Byrne said. "I kind of backed away from the business a little bit. I was just playing around with seven, eight, nine horses."
The fortunes of both changed considerably at the conclusion of the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby, when 7-1 third choice Take Charge Indy ran favorites Union Rags and El Padrino off their feet and into Kentucky Derby contention with a wire-to-wire triumph. Chuck and Maribeth Sandford's colt completed nine furlongs over a fast track in 1:48 3/5 and returned $17.40, $9 and $3.60.
Sent to the front from post 3, Take Charge Indy was under moderate pressure from 31-1 chance Reveron for the opening six furlongs. The lead was a half-length through a quarter in :23 3/5, one length after a half in :47 3/5, and down to a half-length again through six furlongs in 1:12. Meanwhile, 5-2 second choice El Padrino rated in fourth while racing four wide, while 2-5 favorite and Grade 2 Fountain of Youth winner Union Rags rated in behind him several lengths off the lead.
Around the far turn and approaching the quarter pole, Reveron let it out a notch and appeared to take a very short lead, but Take Charge Indy, who was given a slight breather at this point, hung tough and ultimately had plenty in reserve as the pair entered the stretch. Opening up a length on Reveron passing the eighth pole, Take Charge Indy was braced for a late challenge, one that never did appear. El Padrino sputtered turning for home and offered no run, while Union Rags shifted off the inside to take his aim at the leaders in the final furlong, but his modest rally came too late.
"He sprung his right hind shoe in the paddock, but I don't think it was a big deal. We had to tack it back on," said trainer Michael Matz of Union Rags. "Julien (Leparoux on Union Rags) said Javier (Castellano on El Padrino) was on him the whole time down the backside, but that's just race-riding. He said he should have been closer the way the track has been right now.
"Horses aren't coming back. Pat's horse got an easy lead and he got a head start on me, and we just couldn't get him. Julien said he just didn't get out in time and the way the track is today, you had to be close to the pace. I'm not going to trade with anybody. It's just unfortunate how it turned out today, but he can't help that. It was just one of those things."
Take Charge Indy finished a length clear of Reveron, who held off Union Rags for second by a neck. It was another 1 3/4 lengths back to El Padrino in fourth. Completing the order of finish were Neck 'n Neck, Fort Loudon, News Pending and Z Camelot. Bartolome was scratched after a bruised foot was discovered Saturday morning.
The connections of Reveron stated they would continue on to the Kentucky Derby, while trainer Todd Pletcher said he would evaluate El Padrino before proceeding.
A 6 1/2-length debut winner over the Arlington Park Polytrack last July, Take Charge Indy next ran second in the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Futurity. He earned minor checks when finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity and fifth in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile to conclude his two-year-old campaign.
Take Charge Indy fared better in second appearance on dirt in a first-level allowance at Gulfstream on January 29. Opening up a three-length lead midway through the 1 1/16-mile affair, Take Charge Indy was eventually run down by El Padrino and finished two lengths behind that rival in second. He was entered in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby on March 13, but was scratched by Byrne after drawing a wide post. Byrne instead elected to train the colt up to the Florida Derby, and after this triumph his record stands at 6-2-2-0, $721,000.
"He needs five, six weeks, at least (between races), so that's the reason we took aim at the Tampa Bay race," Byrne said. "When we were sitting there and he drew the 10 hole, Chuck and I and Marybeth were talking about it and we said 'That colt is doing so well, why don't we take a shot in the Florida Derby.' We knew he liked the racetrack. We're not surprised."
Bred by Eaton Sales, Take Charge Indy is a son of the Dehere mare Take Charge Lady, whose career earnings of nearly $2.5 million was accumulated by winning such Grade 1 races as the Ashland and two editions of the Spinster, both at Keeneland. She is a half-sister to stakes winners Commendation and Eventail, the latter the dam of Grade 2 winner Straight Story. This is the extended family of Grade 2 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint winner Chamberlain Bridge.