Will Take Charge turned in a strong late rally under Luis Saez to run down Game On Dude to win the Clark Handicap (G1) at Churchill Downs.
Beaten a nose by Mucho Macho Man in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) on Nov. 2, Will Take Charge collared Game on Dude in the final jump to win the 139th running of the Clark.
Owned by Willis Horton and trained by D. Wayne Lukas, Will Take Charge most likely secured the honor of Thoroughbred racing’s champion 3-year-old with his victory over Game On Dude and seven other rivals. But Bob Baffert, the Hall of Fame trainer who sent Game On Dude from Southern California to Kentucky in an effort to put his star back in the conversation for racing’s coveted Eclipse Award for “Horse of the Year”, believes the late-developing Will Take Charge deserves more.
“He’s got to be considered seriously for Horse of the Year, because that was pretty impressive,” Baffert said. “The Dude, he ran his race. He brought his ‘A’ game today, and Will Take Charge still got us. So that’s pretty impressive.”
The 78-year-old Lukas hoped that, at the very least, his rising star had wrapped up 3-year-old championship honors.
“If I’m reading the headlines right, Game On Dude was in contention for Horse of the Year,” Lukas said. “If that’s the case, we just beat a damn nice horse. And we did beat a nice horse today. We beat a damn good horse.”
Will Take Charge improved his career record to 15-6-3-0 and boosted his career earnings to $3,055,148. Most of that success has come this year for the colt who started his campaign in January, was well-beaten in the Kentucky Derby and all three races of the Triple Crown, but came to life in the second half of 2013 with victories in the Grade I Travers at Saratoga and the Grade II Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing prior to his runs in the Breeders’ Cup and the Clark Handicap. His 2013 record stands at 11-5-2-0 with earnings of $2,960,977 following Friday’s dramatic win.
Will Take Charge covered the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Clark Handicap over a fast track in 1:49.39. He paid $6.80, $3 and $2.60 as the 5-2 second betting choice in the Clark. Game On Dude, who suffered only his second defeat in a seven-race 2013 campaign that included three Grade I stakes victories, paid $3.40 and $2.60 for his runner-up effort under jockey Mike Smith.
Baffert indicated that the 6-year-old Game On Dude would return to competition in 2014. Following his defeat in the Clark Handicap, his career record stands at 29-15-6-1 with earnings of $5,707,893. Of that total, $2,575,735 was earned this year as he compiled a record of 7-5-1-0 following a Clark Handicap performance that offered redemption for a ninth-place finish as the favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but ended a head short of victory in his dramatic final race of the year.