By Dick Downey
D. Wayne Lukas proved he's back in the Kentucky Derby picture again in a big way in the Grade II Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park.
Will Take Charge, ridden by Jon Court, won the race by a head over Oxbow, ridden by Mike Smith. Both are trained by Lukas.
Will Take Charge picked up 50 Kentucky Derby qualifying points and now has 60, which will be more than enough to land him in the starting gate in Louisville on May 4.
Oxbow was awarded 20 points and now has 36 total. The jury's still out on whether that will be enough, but some knowledgeable observers think it will be. Den's Legacy got 10 points for running third and now has 20 Derby points. He'll probably need a few more if he's to make the Kentucky Derby field.
As expected, Title Contender sped to a lead designed to set up a late run by fellow entry Treasury Bill -- a late run that never materialized. But the tactic may have been the undoing of Grade III Southwest Stakes winner Super Ninety Nine.
The Bob Baffert shipper was never far from Title Contender. They were followed up the backstretch by Delhomme and Oxbow, then Oxbow and Delhomme, through fractions of :23.36 and :47.19.
Hitting the far turn, Title Contender was done. Super Ninety Nine and Oxbow were in a battle for the lead, with Oxbow to the outside of the 6-5 post-time favorite. However, Den's Legacy and Will Take Charge were putting pressure on both of them. Six furlongs had gone in 1:12.39.
After the field turned for home, Super Ninety Nine found himself between Oxbow to his outside and Den's Legacy to his inside. Will Take Charge, who'd gone four wide on the turn, has lost a little ground. Bumped a bit, Super Ninety Nine faltered while the other three went on. Will Take Charge regrouped and came running to the outside of Oxbow to secure the win by a head. Den's Legacy was beaten two lengths.
The top three were followed across the finish line by Texas Bling, Super Ninety Nine, Carve, Title Contender, Treasury Bill, Hardrock Eleven and Stormy Holiday. Delhomme was pulled up.
The Rebel time of 1:45.18 was a little faster than 6-year-old Tiz Miz Sue's 1:45.26 in the Grade III Azeri one race earlier at Oaklawn.
Sent off at 28-1 odds, Will Take Charge paid $58.00, $16.20 and $9.80. Oxbow returned $7.80 and $5.60, and Den's Legacy was $6.00 to show.
Owned by Willis D. Horton, Will Take Charge is a son of Unbridled's Song. He's a $425,000 Keeneland September 2011 purchase and is out of the multiple grade I-winning mare Take Charge Lady, making him a half-brother of Take Charge Indy.
Will Take Charge won the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn in January but was soundly beaten by Super Ninety Nine over a sloppy track in the Grade II Southwest Stakes. That led Lukas to describe him after the Rebel as a "fair weather horse." In the Southwest, Will Take Charge finished sixth, beaten 18 lengths.
D. Wayne Lukas: "Will Take Charge is a fair-weather horse. He said he didn't feel like running in the rain last time. He had been doing well all week. I was feeling pretty good 100 yards from the wire. The competition was so tough. The hill gets a little steeper from this point.
Jon Court: "Wayne told me how well he's been doing and he had him tuned up today. The race was executed to plan. It worked out perfectly. I was able to position him where we wanted. He was very professional today."
Mike Smith, up on Oxbow: "He ran awesome. He was doing things really easy. I didn't want to send him at the quarter pole because I knew it was a bit too early. But, it was the hand that was dealt to us."
Robby Albarado, aboard Den's Legacy. "We had a great trip, nice rail trip. This horse ran great. You'll hear a lot more from him."
Jim Barnes, assistant trainer to Bob Baffert regarding Super Ninety Nine:"No real excuses at this point. We had the trip we expected. He was able to sit off the pace like we wanted."
Rafael Bejarano, on Super Ninety Nine: "I was really comfortable in the beginning, but then my horse flattened out after that."