SARATOGA SPRINGS -- For a moment, it looked as if the $1-million Travers Stakes might end in a dead heat for the second consecutive year. But Luis Saez got Will Take Charge's nose down inches ahead of 31-1 shot Moreno's, so there won't be two canoes floating in Saratoga's infield lake anymore. Instead, there will be a third Travers memento in trainer D. Wayne Lukas' trophy case.
"I took a chance with an up-and-coming young rider," Lukas, 77, said. "At the three-eighths pole, I wasn't sure we were going to get anything. When you win one like this, they pay double."
On a day the marquee 3-year-olds -- Kentucky Derby winner Orb (third), Belmont champion Palace Malice (fourth) and Haskell winner Verrazano (seventh) -- fell short, 9-1 Will Take Charge redeemed himself for a miserable Triple Crown. Although he finished eighth, seventh and 10th in the classics, beaten a combined 45¼ lengths, Lukas never gave up on him.
Finishing second under Junior Alvarado behind Palace Malice in the Jim Dandy convinced Lukas that Will Take Charge was coming around, and Saturday he validated the old Wisconsin cowboy's faith. "He's a big horse, more than 17 hands," Lukas said. "He's like that gawky freshman who's dunking by the time he's a senior."
Moreno and Jose Ortiz set leisurely fractions -- 24.40, 48.88, 1:13.43 -- and led after a mile in 1:37.47 on a speed-biased track. Moreno went five-wide as Orb rallied up the rail for Jose Lezcano to take a short lead in upper stretch. Moreno fought back and passed Orb inside the sixteenth pole, staying in front for five strides before Will Take Charge nailed him.
"Brutal, huh?" trainer Eric Guillot said. "Last jump. He couldn't have done any better."
Will Take Charge ($21.20) ran 1¼ miles in 2:02.68 and earned $600,000 for Willis Horton.
Orb was three-quarters of a length behind the top two and a nose ahead of Palace Malice, who bobbled at the start and was pinched back to last. Verrazano, favored at 8-5, folded after stalking for a mile. "The break killed Palace Malice," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "But we've had a great meet, and we're not going to cry about it."
Shug McGaughey also was philosophical about Orb's performance off a 2½-month layoff. "He ran a good race," McGaughey said. "We got him back on the right track."
Notes & quotes: The 144th Midsummer Derby attracted 47,597, many of whom packed the backyard. The gates opened at 7 a.m. for the "Run for the Picnic Tables," a tradition a local television reporter had never seen. She was "intimidated" and ducked behind her cameraman as hundreds sprinted to claim their partying turf. Even at the world's friendliest racetrack, the off-track competition can be cutthroat, too . . . Joel Rosario, who would have ridden Orb, is expected to miss six weeks after suffering a broken left foot here Friday in a spill . . . Sweet Lulu ($5.60, Grade I Test), Laughing ($7.30, Grade II Ballston Spa) and Pletcher's Capo Bastone ($58.50, Grade I King's Bishop) combined with Will Take Charge for a $12,136 Pick 4.