Pletcher schools Travers duo; Lukas loves Will Take Charge's post
Hurry up and wait.
With two days left until the 144th renewal of the Travers Stakes, that's all trainer Todd Pletcher can do when it comes to Verrazano and Palace Malice, the top two program favorites for Saturday's Grade 1, $1 million "Mid-Summer Derby."
Pletcher said Thursday that Verrazano, 2-1 on the morning line, and Palace Malice, 5-2, each continue to head into the 1 1/4-mile Mid-Summer Derby in top order.
"Both of them had very good mornings today," Pletcher said. "Galloped without incident. We're pleased with both of them.
"I think whenever you train horses," he added, "you have a tendency to worry about everything, but when you have horses that are doing as well as these two horses, you just hope for no bad luck and try to do all the things you do every day...try to keep them relaxed and settled and safe, and that's really it. We're just really, really happy with both of them, so you're left just kind of waiting."
Verrazano has won six of seven starts including his past two -- the Pegasus and Haskell Invitational -- by 19 combined lengths. Palace Malice has strung together professional wins in the Belmont Stakes and Jim Dandy.
Following Wednesday's post-position draw for the Travers, Pletcher schooled both colts in the paddock, where the draw was held.
"We waited a little bit because we didn't want to be up there during the draw itself but when we got there, there was still some residual people left over from the draw," Pletcher said. "We like to do it because it doesn't disrupt their routine much. They get their breakfast at 10:30 (a.m.) and then go over at 11:30.
"Both of those horses schooled three days before they ran the last time. Neither one of them are the type of horses that need a lot of paddock schooling but, once again, it's just covering your bases. They both stood at the gate last week and that went smoothly. We like to do that leading up to big races just as an insurance policy, basically."
Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas has won the Travers twice, with Corporate Report in 1991 and Thunder Gulch in 1995. He'll saddle Will Take Charge on Saturday, the trainer's first starter in the Mid-Summer Derby since Shah Jehan was ninth in 2002.
Lukas, 77, has won 14 Triple Crown races, more than any trainer in history, breaking "Sunny" Jim Fitzsimmons' record with Oxbow's upset of the Preakness Stakes in May. Before that, his last Triple Crown race victory came with Commendable in the 2000 Belmont Stakes.
"I don't get nervous, but I love the big ones. I love to get in that main arena and try to pull it off," Lukas remarked. "There's no question about it. I still have a passion for it. I'm not one of those rah-rah, get nervous guys. In fact, I get very analytical when they're running. I'm watching their stride, head movement, everything."
Will Take Charge drew post 5 in the field of nine, and is the co-fourth choice on the morning line with Transparent at 10-1.
"I love my post position, in relationship to where everybody else drew," Lukas said. "It isn't a big deal, but if you had to make a choice, that would have been the one I made."
Lukas added that he is pointing Fast Bullet to the Grade 1, $500,000 Forego on August 31. Owner Ahmed Zayat transferred the five-year-old son of Speightstown, who had been with Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert in California, to Lukas this week.
Fast Bullet has run just five times in his career, winning four, including the True North Handicap on June 8 at Belmont Park, which was his first start in six months. His lone loss was a sixth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint last November.
"He got here the day before yesterday," Lukas said. "He's a beautiful horse. Wow. I had seen his form and seen him run on TV and all that, but I had never seen him physically. Boy, he's a beautiful horse. He should be a factor in the Forego. That's why he's here."
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