SARATOGA - A determined Will Take Charge wore down stubborn pacesetter Moreno in the final sixteenth of a mile and hit the wire a nose in front to win the 144th renewal of the Grade 1, $1 million Travers on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.
Kentucky 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 in the field of nine 3-year-olds by a crowd of 47,597, the largest Travers crowd in the past 10 years - stalked the pace 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 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."
Dismissed by bettors at 31-1, Moreno was still in front through six furlongs in 1:13.43. Orb began to make a move along the inside with Will Take Charge in close pursuit. Moreno came wide off the final turn but remained on top. Saez swung Will Take Charge to the outside approaching the quarter pole and steered him to the middle of the track for the stretch run. As Moreno dug in to fend off the challenge of Orb, Verrazano began to fade, and Will Take Charge doggedly pursued the leader until sticking his nose in front at the wire. The margin of victory matched the shortest in Travers history, reached nine times previously but not since Afleet Express in 2010.
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.