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Will Take Charge surges late to seize Travers glory

Will Take Charge (outside) rallied to nail Moreno on the Travers wire (Jessie Holmes/EquiSport Photos)

Willis Horton's Will Take Charge got up in the final strides to deny pacesetter Moreno by a nose in Saturday's $1 million Travers, providing Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas with his third victory in the "Midsummer Derby" at Saratoga. A participant in all three legs of the Triple Crown, the well-bred son of Unbridled's Song earned his biggest victory to date with the Grade 1 score.

Lukas snapped an 18-year Travers drought, winning previously with Corporate Report (1991) and Thunder Gulch (1995).

"It feels pretty good," said Lukas, who also notched his first Triple Crown race win since 2000 with Oxbow in the Preakness. "They were reminding me it's been a long time between drinks, but when they come like this, they come double.

"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."

Winner of the Rebel Stakes and Smarty Jones at Oaklawn Park earlier this year, Will Take Charge was not a serious factor in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness or Belmont Stakes, but he prepped for the 1 1/4-mile Travers with a runner-up finish in the July 27 Jim Dandy at Saratoga. He moved forward off that encouraging effort while being ridden for the first time by Luis Saez.

Will Take Charge paid $21.20 to win as the 9-1 fourth choice among nine rivals.

Moreno, a 31-1 longshot, showed speed as expected at the start and got away with surprisingly mild fractions of :24 2/5 and :48 4/5 on a short lead, with Romansh and 8-5 favorite Verrazano together a couple of lengths back stalking the front-runner. Saez guided Will Take Charge into a perfect spot in midpack entering the first turn and raced in tandem to the outside of Kentucky Derby winner Orb down the backstretch, within five lengths of the lead the entire way.

Moreno reached six furlongs in 1:13 2/5 with a two-length cushion, but his advantage had nearly evaporated by the conclusion of the far turn and he drifted a little wide into stretch. Orb cut the corner along the rail and stuck a head in front in front passing the mile mark in 1:37 2/5. Will Take Charge was still 3 1/2 lengths back in fifth with a quarter-mile remaining.

Moreno (blue hat) just missed posting a massive upset in a commendable performance (Bud Morton/EquiSport Photos)

"At the three-eighths pole, I thought we'll get a piece of it, but I didn't know if we'd get up," Lukas said.

Moreno battled back gamely to retake the lead from Orb in midstretch, but Will Take Charge was also gaining momentum at that point, only a length back with an eighth of a mile left. Will Take Charge surged late to prevail in a thrilling finish, stopping the teletimer in 2:02 3/5 on the fast track.

"I want to say thanks to God, (Mr.) Lukas and everyone who's coming here to see these champions," Saez said. "This horse was training good. 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."

"I took a chance on an up-and-coming rider," Lukas added. "I thought my horse trained well, but these things are so tough."

Moreno held second by three-quarters of a length over Orb, with the fast-closing Palace Malice another nose back in fourth after a troubled trip.

"Brutal, huh? Last jump," trainer Eric Guillot said of the narrow setback with Moreno. "He couldn't have done any better -- stay in the three-path, stay off the rail, make them come to you, don't let them go inside you, don't let them pinch you on the rail.

"The kid (Jose Ortiz) 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?"

Palace Malice does his best running up on the front end, but he was relegated to last during the early stages after stumbling and getting slammed inward by Transparency at the start.

"You have to go back (to the replay) and watch the break," Mike Smith said of Palace Malice. "He broke really, really, really bad. What am I going to do? I cannot go for the lead. All I could do is sit back there, creep up, creep up, creep up and see if I could get him there. I thought I still had it for a little bit there, but it was just too much to make up."

Romansh finished another 3 1/4 lengths back in fifth and was followed under the wire by War Dancer, Verrazano, Golden Soul and Transparent.

"I was very happy where I was (early on)," jockey John Velazquez said of the trip aboard Verrazano. "By the half-mile pole, he was off the bridle and just went through the motions. He really didn't put in much effort."

Lukas believes Will Take Charge, who was led into the winner's circle by owner Willis Horton, will continue to improve (Jessie Holmes/EquiSport Photos)

With Saturday's $600,000 payday, Will Take Charge became Thoroughbred racing's newest millionaire (earnings of $1,265,371) and his record now reads 12-4-2-0.

Bred in Kentucky by Eaton, Will Take Charge hails from the multiple Grade 1-winning mare Take Charge Lady, an earner of more than $2.4 million. The 14-year-old broodmare is passing her immense talent along to offspring as well.

Will Take Charge is a half-brother to Grade 1-winning millionaire Take Charge Indy, hero of last year's Florida Derby and the Grade 2 Alysheba earlier this season. Take Charge Lady is also responsible for an unnamed yearling filly by Indian Charlie and a 2013 filly by War Chant.

The Travers result throws the three-year-old division into disarray, with no clear-cut leader at this late stage of the season, and Will Take Charge is now in the mix for champion three-year-old. Lukas is looking forward to the future with his runner.

"He's a little over 17 hands and just starting to find himself," Lukas said of the chestnut. "This is a horse who's going to get better. He's getting his act together."

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