Will Take Charge, who has been stabled at Oaklawn Park throughout the winter but has not yet partaken in any of the track's major races for older horses, will be among the attractions on closing day of the Hot Springs, Arkansas, track when he heads a field of seven in the Grade 2, $600,000 Oaklawn Handicap on Saturday.
The 1 1/8-mile Oaklawn Handicap is the biggest of the three undercard stakes on Arkansas Derby Day. Also featured are the $100,000 Northern Spur for three-year-olds at one mile, and the $100,000 Instant Racing for three-year-old fillies at six furlongs.
Last year's three-year-old colt champion, Will Take Charge has sought more lucrative opportunities in the early months of 2014, but has come away second best in both attempts. The 3-2 favorite in the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park on February 9, the Unbridled's Song colt could not catch Lea, who led most of the way over a track sealed beforehand. Last month, the D. Wayne Lukas trainee earned the silver in the 1 1/4-mile Santa Anita Handicap behind a loose-on-the-lead Game On Dude, who won in a scintillating 1:58.
The champion will be facing familiar foes on Saturday. Revolutionary, last year's Louisiana Derby and Withers winner, finished ahead of Will Take Charge in both the Kentucky Derby and Belmont, but was nowhere to be found when finishing up the track in the Donn, his second race off an extended layoff.
Moreno, one of several speed elements in the Oaklawn Handicap, showed little when last seen in the Breeders' Cup Classic, but was a game second by a nose to Will Take Charge in the Travers last August, and was second again to that foe in the Pennsylvania Derby. Moreno's biggest victory to date was in the Dwyer at Belmont Park last July.
Golden Lad had a breakout effort in last month's Razorback Handicap, winning his stakes debut by nearly seven lengths for trainer Todd Pletcher. Left in his wake were the returning Prayer for Relief, a multiple Grade 2 veteran, and the speedy Right to Vote, who narrowly won the Essex Handicap earlier in the Oaklawn meet.
The field is rounded out by Carve, a recent allowance winner who finished third in last year's Arkansas Derby.
None of the 10 colts and geldings entered in the Northern Spur have won a stakes, but several -- Six Spot, Bourbonize, Knock Em Flat, Sheltowee's Boy, Unstoppable Colby, and Fabulous Kid -- won maidens or allowances earlier in the meet.
In the seven-horse Instant Racing, bettors are likely to focus on Jojo Warrior, a debut winner for Bob Baffert at Del Mar last summer, and the Wesley Ward-trained Sweetmarys Success, who won two early-season dashes last year including the J J'sdream at Calder.