In a determined effort, Will Take Charge tagged a game Moreno eight on the wire to prevail in the Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga on Saturday.
Derby winner Orb, making his first start since finishing third in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes in June, checked in third, three-quarters of a length behind the winner and a nose ahead of Palace Malice, who missed the break and had to rally uncharacteristically from well back.
Verrazano, favored at 8-5, stalked the pace in an ideal position early but faded to finish seventh.
Trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas for owner Willis D. Horton, Will Take Charge ran 1 ¼ miles in 2:02.68, and returned $21.20 for a $2 win bet as the 9-1 fourth choice.
It was the third Travers victory for Lukas and first since Thunder Gulch in 1995.
Lukas also won with Corporate Report in 1991. This was his first Travers starter since 2002.
Saddling a horse in the “Mid-Summer Derby” for the first time since 2002, Lukas also won with Corporate Report in 1991.
Will Take Charge made jockey Luis Saez a winner in his Travers debut. The Panamanian replaced Junior Alvarado after the chestnut son of Unbridled’s Song closed to be second by a length to Palace Malice in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga on July 27.
“I changed up a [few] things,” Lukas said. “I took a chance on an up-and-coming rider. I thought my horse trained well, but these things are so tough. At the three-eighths pole, I thought we’d get a piece of it, but I didn’t know if we’d get up. He’s a little over 17 hands [tall] and just starting to find himself. This is a horse who’s going to get better. He’s getting his act together.”
Will Take Charge is one of three horses to compete in all three legs of the Triple Crown this spring, finishing eighth in the Kentucky Derby, seventh to injured stablemate Oxbow in the Preakness, and 10th in the Belmont Stakes.
“It feels pretty good,” Lukas said of winning the Travers and the Preakness. “They were reminding me it’s been a long time between drinks, but when they come like this, they come double.”
The margin of victory matched the shortest in Travers history, reached nine times previously but not since Afleet Express in 2010.
“This horse was training good,” Saez said. “Last time, when he finished second, I saw the replays, and I knew how to ride him. I tried to ride him like he runs.”
With the victory, Will Take Charge improved his record to 4-2-0 from 12 starts, and the $600,000 winner’s share nearly doubled his purse earnings to $1,265,371.
“These races, the Triple Crown races, the Breeders’ Cup and the Travers, especially at this time of year when horses have had hard campaigns, they’re special,” Lukas said. “There has never been a bad Travers. This one was really solid, but they’re all great. They don’t put up a million bucks on a Grade 1 and just hand it to them. You better get on your belly and have a horse ready to run, or you’re not going to win one of these.”
Trainer Eric Guillot was thrilled with the effort of Moreno , who broke his maiden on the Belmont Stakes undercard on June 8 in his 10th try, then won the Grade 2 Dwyer before finishing third in the Jim Dandy.
“Brutal, huh? Last jump,” Guillot said. “The kid rode him just like I told him. He knows the horse, and he rode him perfect. We got beat. He said the horse kind of waited on them that last part. What are you going to do?”