Two days after saddling Oxbow to a victory in the Grade 3 Lecomte at Fair Grounds, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas made it a sweep of the holiday weekend's major classic preps when the regally-bred Will Take Charge gutted out a photo-finish victory in Monday's $150,000 Smarty Jones at Oaklawn Park.
Ridden by Jon Court, who was also aboard Oxbow, Will Take Charge was hung six wide heading into the clubhouse turn and remained well off the rail down the backside but in a comfortable stalking position. Up front, California shipper Avare held a half-length advantage through splits of :23 and :46 3/5, with Texas Bling taking up the pursuit in second.
A 128-1 upset winner of the December 9 Springboard Mile at Remington Park, where he beat the pacesetting Will Take Charge by 1 3/4 lengths, Texas Bling this time found himself the hunted after assuming the lead from a weakening Avare around the far turn. Will Take Charge began his three wide bid for the lead at this time and there was little separating the rivals for the final three furlongs.
In the short stretch, Will Take Charge poked his head in front with an eighth remaining, but appeared to yield very briefly to Texas Bling shortly afterwards. Will Take Charge found one more burst and it proved to be a winning one as he edged Texas Bling by a neck, completing one mile on a fast track in 1:38 3/5. A 12-1 shot, Will Take Charge paid $26.20, $14.60 and $7.
Also entering the photo finish frame late was 9-5 favorite Always in a Tiz, who saved ground throughout, moved outside for running room turning for home and produced a solid stretch kick to just miss the runner-up spot by a nose to Texas Bling, who again was unheralded on the tote board at 18-1.
The remainder of the field was mostly spread out, with the order of finish completed by Stormy Holiday, Brown Almighty, Officer Alex, Avare, Best of Birdstone and King Henny.
Owned by Willis Horton, Will Take Charge broke slowly in his August 16 debut at Saratoga going 5 1/2 furlongs, but a made a mild rally to be fifth. A last-to-first winner of an October 18 maiden at Keeneland over seven Polytrack furlongs in his next start, Will Take Charge showed little when tackling stakes company for the first time in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club on November 24, trailing the field of 13 by more than 25 lengths.
"He had his mind on winning today," Court said. "In his last race at Churchill (Kentucky Jockey Club), he was hot and excited. Today, he was calm, cool and collected."
Will Take Charge rebounded off the Kentucky Jockey Club with the aforementioned second to Texas Bling in the Springboard Mile. The son of Unbridled's Song has now earned $204,000 from a line of 6-3-2-0.
Bred by Eaton in Kentucky, Will Take Charge was a $425,000 Keeneland September yearling. He is the second stakes winner produced by the $2.4 million-earner Take Charge Lady, a Dehere mare that won nine stakes, including two wins in the Grade 1 Spinster as well as the Grade 1 Ashland. Her many placings at the top level included a narrow loss to Hall of Famer Azeri in the 2003 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn.
Take Charge Lady's first stakes winner was Take Charge Indy, a son of A.P. Indy, who captured the Grade 1 Florida Derby last year and is presently a candidate for next month's Grade 1 Donn Handicap for trainer Pat Byrne.
Take Charge Lady is a half-sister to Grade 3-placed stakes winners Commendation and Eventail. The latter is the dam of Grade 2 victor Straight Story. Also hailing from this family is prominent turf sprinter and Breeders' Cup winner Chamberlain Bridge.