Glinting white bridles, a track announcer describing the outcome as a "D. Wayne Lukas photo," a dapper impresario in the winner's circle -- horse racing's recent history and its potential future converged on a moment Saturday at Oaklawn Park. Or rather they converged on the Rebel Stakes, where Will Take Charge won by a head over Oxbow, both horses giving performances that launched them into ESPN.com's Top 10 Kentucky Derby Contenders.
And both horses came from the stable of D. Wayne Lukas, who's the sport's all-time leading trainer, his stable having earned $256,641,526. Closest to Lukas among active trainers on the all-time earnings list is Todd Pletcher, and he's about $60 million back. Having trained 24 champions and three Horses of the Year, Lukas at 77 has become the doyen of trainers. And for most of his career his success intertwined with the Triple Crown's popularity. Could the same be true of his resurgence? He has won four Kentucky Derbies and 13 Triple Crown races, the last one being the 2000 Belmont Stakes with Commendable. And he has at least two strong candidates for this year's Triple Crown races.
Will Take Charge followed Oxbow through the second turn at Oaklawn and then ran down his stablemate in the stretch, completing the 1 1/16 miles over a very dull and tiring surface in 1:45.18. (Tiz Miz Sue won the Azeri Stakes in 1:45.26. In the five two-turn races Saturday at Oaklawn, no winner raced closer than fourth early, and that was Tiz Miz Sue, in a five-horse field; the average winner rallied from 5.25 lengths back after the opening half-mile.) Super Ninety Nine, the 6-5 favorite, stalked the Rebel pace and then faded to fifth; he also faded from the ESPN.com Top 10, along with Normandy Invasion. With his victory, Will Take Charge earned 50 Derby points and became the points leader with 60. In other words, he's in the Kentucky Derby -- and Oxbow, with 36 points, is probably in, too.
Lukas could have another Triple Crown candidate in Titletown Five, who's aimed at the Louisiana Derby, and yet another in Channel Isle. The Hall Of Fame trainer will send out Channel Isle in Saturday's Spiral Stakes at Turfway, where Uncaptured, Mac The Man, Balance The Books, Fear The Kitten, Capo Bastone and General Election are also expected. And Sunday's Sunland Derby could attract Shakin It Up, Overanalyze, Dry Summer, Abraham, Demonic and Govenor Charlie.
Dominant in his three wins, Verrazano is clearly the most talented 3-year-old in the country. But has he peaked? The history of the Kentucky Derby is speckled with the names of horses who peaked in March. Can Verrazano take his talent on the road and extend it the 1 1/4 miles? And as others mature and improve, will somebody catch up with him? He'll probably make his next start April 6 in the Wood, Pletcher said.
Orb worked a half-mile in 48 seconds Monday at Payson Park, his second serious training move since he won the Fountain of Youth. The long-striding colt has improved steadily this winter, and logic insists that he'll improve with more distance, such as he'll get in the March 30 Florida Derby. With the addition of Merit Man to the lineup, there's again the possibility that the pace at Gulfstream Park will be lively.
Itsmyluckyday had a useful five-furlong workout (1:01) on Saturday at Calder. His trainer, Eddie Plesa Jr., described it as "perfect." And indeed everything has been perfect for the big colt this year: He's unbeaten in his two races at Gulfstream Park, the most recent being, of course, the Holy Bull Stakes. Itsmyluckyday is also aimed at the Florida Derby.
Revolutionary is a Jekyll-Hyde sort of horse. Among his many talents is one for mischief and trouble. But he also has a talent for escaping trouble, as he showed in winning the Withers. He worked five-eighths of a mile Sunday at Palm Meadows in 1:00.65 in company with stakes-winning filly Unlimited Budget. Both are expected to travel to New Orleans soon, Revolutionary for the March 30 Louisiana Derby.
5. Shanghai Bobby
The champion juvenile of 2012 worked five-eighths of a mile Sunday (1:00.14) with stablemate Palace Malice, who'll make his next start in the Louisiana Derby. They "finished up well" and went "head and head," according to Pletcher, who said Shanghai Bobby has trained as well, "or even better," than he did prior to running second in the Holy Bull. He'll get a rematch with Itsmyluckyday in the Florida Derby.
Flashback lost for the first time in his career in the San Felipe, where he rushed into a lively pace (45.95 seconds for the opening half-mile), making it even more contentious. He faltered in deep stretch, finishing second in what was, all things considered, a very good effort. But when he returns in the Santa Anita Derby on April 6, he'll have a new rider, Garrett Gomez.
Vyjack had an easy half-mile workout Friday in 51.23 seconds, which emphasizes just how much he has matured. His four workouts prior to the Gotham were all the fastest of the morning at the distance. But Friday's move was one of the slowest. As he showed in the Gotham, Vyjack has learned to control his speed; he has learned, in other words, to be a racehorse. He'll take on Verrazano in the Wood.
8. Hear The Ghost
It's true that everything fell in his lap in the San Felipe, where the leaders ran the opening three-quarters of a mile in 1:09.94 and so were vulnerable in the stretch. Still, Hear The Ghost had the talent to take advantage of the situation, finishing with admirable determination and courage. And it was his first race around two turns. How much better can he get? He could provide an answer in the Santa Anita Derby.
9. Will Take Charge
Yes, he had a good trip while winning Saturday, but he was one of the few horses in the Rebel who actually finished with some energy over the very dull surface. And he galloped out strongly, along with his stablemate Oxbow. Will Take Charge could make his next start in the Blue Grass on April 13, according to Lukas.
Although second, he ran at least as well as the Rebel winner Saturday. Oxbow raced five-wide in the first turn, pressed the pace, advanced three-to-four wide in the second turn, put away Super Ninety Nine in mid-stretch and then responded when challenged late. Both horses from the Lukas barn ran well, suggesting they're going to be players on the Triple Crown stage.
Also receiving votes: Normandy Invasion (19), Code West (14), Uncaptured (12), Mac The Man (9), War Academy (8), Rydilluc (5), Power Broker (4), Tiz the Truth (4), Titletown Five (3), Java's War (3), Shakin It Up (2) Goldencents (2), Capo Bastone (1), Transparent (1)