SARATOGA SPRINGS — Will Take Charge waited until the final stride to get a nose past Moreno and pull off a surprise win in the Travers Stakes on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.
The thrilling finish gave 77-year-old Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas his third win in racing’s Mid-Summer Derby and first since 1995, with the 9-1 Will Take Charge also beating Kentucky Derby winner Orb and Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice, who finished third and fourth, respectively.
Will Take Charge ran in all three Triple Crown races, but never hit the board. The huge 3-year-old colt ran second to Palace Malice in the Jim Dandy, and Lukas said his horse was ready for a big race.
Will Take Charge, with Luis Saez aboard for the first time, ran 1¼ miles in 2:02.68, and paid $21.20, $8.60 and $5.20.
The 144th Travers was set up as a three-horse showdown with Derby winner Orb taking on two of trainer Todd Pletcher’s top colts in Haskell Invitational winner and favorite Verrazano and the ever-improving Palace Malice.
What developed instead was an impressive effort by expected pacesetter Moreno, who led the field of nine into the stretch. On the inside, though, Orb — with new rider Jose Lezcano replacing the injured Joel Rosario — was making a strong move for the lead. But Will Take Charge came barreling down the stretch, pulled even with Moreno in the final yards and nudged ahead of the 31-1 long shot at the wire.
Lukas, who has a basketball coaching background, called an audible leading up to the race by picking Saez to ride Will Take Charge over Junior Alvarado, who was aboard in the Jim Dandy.
“I took a chance with an up and coming rider,” Lukas said.
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.”
Romansh was fourth, followed by War Dancer, Verrazano, Golden Soul and Transparent.
Lukas won the Preakness with Oxbow for his record 14th victory in a Triple Crown race, but the colt is out with an injury. Up stepped Will Take Charge to give Lukas quite a double of Grade 1 wins.
“It feels pretty good,” Lukas said. “It’s been a long time between drinks, but when they come like this they come double.”
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.
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.