A year after Take Charge Indy left seven other 3-year-olds in his wake with a front-running score in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, he returns as one of the favorites in the $100,000 Skip Away Stakes March 30.
Trained by Patrick Byrne for WinStar Farm and Chuck and Maribeth Sandford, Take Charge Indy tallied a dramatic one-length victory in the Florida Derby at odds of 7-1, earning a spot in the Kentucky Derby. He was 19th in the Derby after getting away poorly along the inside, and he will be looking for his first win since the Florida Derby in the Skip Away.
The 1 3/16-mile Skip Away, won last year by eventual Breeders' Cup Classic winner Fort Larned, has attracted a strong field of 10 as part of the Florida Derby undercard. It includes last year's Travers Stakes winner Golden Ticket, Pants On Fire, and the promising 4-year-old Cigar Street. The race is the 10th on the stakes-packed card with a 5:03 p.m. EDT scheduled post.
"It's a pretty salty race for a Grade 3, but we're ready to go," Byrne said of Take Charge Indy. "He blew out [Sunday] in :36 and change and everything looks good.
"Certainly, it will be special running on [Derby Day]," he added. "It was a great win for us. In fact, I enjoyed that win maybe most of all my wins because it was for really nice people and it was a special day, but we expected him to run well in there."
Echoed co-owner Chuck Sandford: "As far as the excitement of last year, it was a lot of fun. That's the easiest way to put it. We enjoyed the repercussions and it got us to the Kentucky Derby at Churchill. Things didn't go quite as well as we wanted to there, but overall it was just a fantastic experience.
Byrne, who trained 1997 Horse of the Year Favorite Trick and won the 1998 Breeders' Cup Classic with Awesome Again, is expecting another good performance from Take Charge Indy in the Skip Away. After undergoing surgery to remove a bone chip in his left front ankle after the Kentucky Derby and missing more than five months, Take Charge Indy returned to finish third Oct. 12 in the Fayette and second Nov. 23 in the Clark Handicap. He was third in his 4-year-old debut at Gulfstream Feb. 9 in the Donn Handicap.
SKIP AWAY STAKES DRAW
"I thought he ran well in the Donn," said Byrne. "We had to use him a little bit, but Graydar (the winner) got out on the front and [second-place finisher] Bourbon Courage is a really good horse."
Byrne said Take Charge Indy is a versatile horse with enough speed to go to the front or rate off a fast pace.
Lori and George Hall's Pants On Fire returns to Gulfstream after winning an allowance race easily over a sloppy track Feb. 15 by 5 1/4 lengths. The son of Jump Start , winner of the 2011 Louisiana Derby, has won two of three starts at Gulfstream and finished third in the Hal's Hope Jan. 13.
"It would be nice to have two Skip Away's under our belt," said trainer Kelly Breen, whose 5-year-old won the ungraded Skip Away Stakes at Monmouth Park last year. "He's one-for-one this year so we're going to try and keep him going, knocking off a couple wins and pick and choose our spots to get him back to a higher graded race. We'll knock away with the Grade 3's right now. If he runs good we'll see if he can step up.
"He's doing fantastic down here," Breen added. "He loves Gulfstream and likes training in Florida. He won down here last year as well as this year. I wouldn't be upset if all his races were at Gulfstream."
Golden Ticket, who finished in a dead-heat in the Travers last August with Alpha, will vie for favoritism with Take Charge Indy. The son of Speightstown followed up his Travers victory with a third-place finish Sept. 22 in the Pennsylvania Derby and an 11th Nov. 25 in the Hollywood Derby on turf.
He made his 4-year-old Jan. 26 at Gulfstream, winning an allowance race by 5 1/4 lengths, before shipping to Louisiana and finishing third Feb. 23 in the Mineshaft Handicap. Golden Ticket was assigned top weight of 121 pounds, four more than each of his Skip Away opponents.
Cigar Street, a 4-year-old son of Street Sense who earned a 99 Beyer figure when breaking his maiden in his second career start last winter at Fair Grounds, finished fourth in the Louisiana Derby before being forced to the sidelines for nine months with a hairline fracture. The colt returned to the races at Gulfstream Dec. 27 with an impressive victory over Fast Falcon, then followed that up with another win Feb. 17, earning a 101 Beyer.
Cigar Street is conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott and owned by Jake Ballis and Miami Heat forward Rashard Lewis.
Others entered in the Skip Away include O'Prado Again, Eldaafer, Where's The Baby, Flatter This, Gourmet Dinner, and Al Qasr.