Willis D. Horton's Will Take Charge caught stablemate Oxbow in deep stretch and posted a head decision in Saturday's Grade 2, $600,000 Rebel at Oaklawn Park, providing Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas with a one-two finish in the 1 1/16-mile event.
"I felt pretty good 100 yards from the wire," the four-time Kentucky Derby-winning conditioner said.
Take Charge Indy garnered 50 points in the new "Road to the Kentucky Derby" scoring system and vaulted himself to the top of the leaderboard with a total of 60 points. The son of Unbridled's Song also earned 10 points for his victory in the January 21 Smarty Jones two starts previously.
"Wayne told me how well he's been doing and he had him tuned up today," winning rider Jon Court said. "The race was executed to plan. It worked out perfectly. I was able to position him where we wanted. He was very professional today."
Court had ridden both Will Take Charge and Oxbow in their recent starts, but Hall of Famer Mike Smith flew in to ride Oxbow on Saturday.
Title Contender and Super Ninety Nine both showed speed from the start, with the former showing the way on a short lead through solid opening fractions of :23 1/5 and :47. Oxbow and Delhomme were stalking the early pace, a couple lengths back of Super Ninety Nine, and Will Take Charge settled in midpack, racing about five lengths behind the pacesetter as the field made its way down the backstretch.
Super Ninety Nine seized the lead on the far turn as Title Contender gave way, but Oxbow advanced to equal terms on the outside and stuck a head in front after six furlongs in 1:12 1/5. Will Take Charge was caught briefly in traffic before starting to make progress while cornering four wide and was set down in earnest by Court as they turned for home. He closed determinedly in the final furlong to nail the runner-up, stopping the teletimer in 1:45.
Off as the 28-1 eighth choice, the winner paid $58, $16.20 and $9.80.
Oxbow, the 7-2 second choice in the 11-horse field, held second by two lengths over the late-running Den's Legacy, who rallied into a threatening position in midstretch before lacking the necessary finishing kick. It was another three lengths back to fourth-placer Texas Bling, who was in turn 3 1/4 lengths better than 6-5 favorite Super Ninety Nine. Next came Carve, Title Contender, Treasury Bill, Hardrock Eleven and Stormy Holiday. Delhomme was distanced.
Will Take Charge broke his maiden second-time out, taking a seven-furlong maiden special weight test at Keeneland last October, but never fired when making his stakes debut in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs in late November, checking in last of 13. He concluded his juvenile season with a second in the December 9 Springboard Mile at Remington Park.
The chestnut colt opened his three-year-old campaign with a game win in the aforementioned Smarty Jones, reversing the Springboard Mile outcome when edging Texas Bling by a neck, but did not favor a sloppy track in the Grade 3 Southwest on February 18, finishing a well-beaten sixth.
"Will Take Charge is a fair weather horse," Lukas said of the Southwest. "He didn't feel like running in the slop last time."
With Saturday's $360,000 payday, Will Take Charge has now earned $545,371 from a 7-3-1-0 record.
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 exits a third in the 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.
Will Take Charge is expected to make his final Kentucky Derby prep in the the Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 13.
"The hill’s going to get a little steeper now," Lukas said of the future.