Eclipse Winner Will Take Charge To Kick Off Season In Donn
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL– Newly crowned Eclipse Award winner Will Take Charge will kick off 2014 in the $500,000 Donn Handicap (G1) at Gulfstream Park on February 9. The Unbridled’s Song colt nearly ran the table in the final months of his sophomore season, defeating his peers in a pair of $1-million races, the Travers Stakes (G1) and Pennsylvania Derby (G2), before acquitting himself with aplomb against his elders. After finishing second by a flared nostril to Mucho Macho Man in the $5-million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), Will Take Charge got up in time to defeat Game On Dude in the $500,000 Clark Handicap (G1).
“I haven’t seen the weights yet and I’m not sure who else is running, but it’s the first Grade I race of the year so I thought we’d take advantage of it,” trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.
The big chestnut is slated to arrive at Gulfstream on February 4, five days before the Donn. He has been wintering at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and breezed six furlongs from the gate in 1:14 4/5 on January 26.
“He’s been training sensationally,” Lukas added. “He’s really developed and filled out, and he’s been doing very, very well.”
Despite finishing off the board in all three Triple Crown races, Will Take Charge rewarded his trainer’s faith with his late-season surge.
“I thought he was getting better and that we had a chance at the championship if we could finish up in the fall, because that’s usually what happens—the horses that finish strong are the ones (that win),” Lukas reflected. “He developed and even though he had a very busy 3-year-old campaign, it didn’t seem to affect him. He’s actually better now than he’s ever been. A lot of that has to do with maturity. With the way he’s filled out and finally learned how to run, he could have a sensational year.”
This will be the second trip to Gulfstream in a month for Lukas, who was on hand to accept the Eclipse Award of Merit on January 18.
“That was pretty special,” Lukas admitted. “In light of the people that had previously won, I think it highlighted a career that I have enjoyed immensely. You do it as a labor of love, as they say, but that was very special.”
The 59th running of the Donn, the first race in The Jockey Club Tour on Fox, will also feature Revolutionary, hero of last year’s Louisiana Derby (G2) and Withers Stakes (G3) and third in the Kentucky Derby (G1). Owned by WinStar Farm, the son of War Pass was victorious in his seasonal opener, a one-mile optional claiming event at Gulfstream on January 11. The 4-year-old drilled a bullet half-mile in :47 4/5 for trainer Todd Pletcher at Palm Meadows on January 27.
“He breezed well and everything’s on schedule,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “As you would expect for the Donn, it’s a Grade I and it’s going to be a tough race, but we’re looking forward to it.”
Also nominated to the mile-and-an-eighth event are Lea, the sharp winner of the Hal’s Hope Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream on January 11 in his first start for conditioner Bill Mott; and the Nick Gonzalez-trained River Seven, who established a track record for 8 ½ furlongs in taking the Harlan’s Holiday Stakes on December 22. Neck ‘n Neck, fourth in the Harlan’s Holiday and third in the Hal’s Hope for trainer Ian Wilkes, is expected to contest the Donn, as is Bourbon Courage, second in last year’s renewal and most recently third in the Harlan’s Holiday for trainer Kellyn Gorder.
Private Zone, the Vosburgh Stakes (G1) victor and runner-up in the Cigar Mile (G1), was nominated to the Donn by California-based trainer Doug O’Neill. Other possible entrants include Falling Sky, second to Revolutionary on January 11 for the George Weaver barn; Long River, winner of two straight stakes races at Aqueduct on behalf of the Kiaran McLaughlin string; and Romansh, who aired in the Discovery Handicap (G3) at Aqueduct on November 2 for trainer Tom Albertrani.
Weights for the Donn will be revealed on February 1.