LITTLE ROCK — Pulling for Revolutionary to outfinish Golden Soul for second in the Kentucky Derby, a traffic problem went unnoticed.
After losing out on the exacta pairing Derby winner Orb and third-place finisher Revolutionary, my impression was that the 139th running of the Derby was uncharacteristically trouble-free, particularly with 19 competitors negotiating 1 1/4 miles on a muddy track.
Curiosity piqued by the opinion of a TV analyst, the 123 seconds that mattered were given a second look on the Sunday after the race.
Will Take Charge, winner of the mid-March Rebel stakes at Oaklawn Park, was moving well in the stretch when the horse in front of him ran out of gas. Momentum lost, Will Take Charge finished eighth.
He was not going to beat Orb, but he might have finished on the board and his performance was encouraging enough to merit a second look at his chances vs. Orb in the Preakness this afternoon. Add to the stop sign that Will Take Charge encountered at Churchill Downs the fact that, by design of owner Willis Horton, the colt had not been to the races in seven weeks.
Orb won the Florida Derby five weeks prior to the Kentucky Derby and Will Take Charge was the only Derby runner with more than six weeks between races. A bust on May 4, the unusual strategy could mean that Will Take Charge will be ready for his best race today.
The colt is one of three Preakness competitors trained by D. Wayne Lukas, who has said that the second jewel of the Triple Crown will be the biggest hurdle for Orb. “If he gets by that, he gets to go back home to Belmont and run right out of his stall,” Lukas said. He called Orb an exceptional horse and praised the skill of fellow Hall of Fame trainer “Shug” McGaughey before tacking on, “But you can’t mail it in.”
Lukas is also running Titletown Five — who deserves to be the longest shot in the field — plus Oxbow, who was second in the Rebel, fifth in the Arkansas Derby, and sixth in the Kentucky Derby.
Titletown Five is one of three horses in the Preakness that did not compete in the Derby. The other two newcomers, Govenor Charlie and Departing, have credentials of some substance.
The winner of the Illinois Derby on April 20, Departing was eligible for the Derby, but trainer Al Stall Jr. opted to stay on the sideline. At 6-1 on the morning line, Departing is a click higher than second choice Mylute at 5-1. Trained by Bob Baffert, Govenor Charlie set a track record while winning the Sunland Park Derby in late March, but a bruised foot kept him out of the Kentucky Derby.
Winner of five straight, Orb was the even-money favorite — $2 to win returns $4 — and I can’t remember such a short price on the morning line of any Triple Crown race. About the only knock against Orb is that he could get pinned on the rail breaking from the No. 1 gate, but even that is not a big deal in a nine-horse field.
The opportunity to get a nice return on a win ticket on Orb went by the boards two weeks ago, but somebody has to complete the exacta. Considering the early part of the column, it should be no surprise that Will Take Charge will be part of my three-horse box with Orb.
The third horse requires a willingness to draw a line through the Derby. That day, Goldencents was 17th, beaten almost 50 lengths. Chalk that up to the muddy track just as trainer Doug O’Neill did, announcing a day after the Derby that his horse was going to the Preakness.
Goldencents has an excellent turn of foot and a horse alone on the lead is dangerous.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.