By Bill Finley
No matter how talented a horse might be, going from a maiden win into a race like the GI Curlin Florida Derby is supposed to be too much to ask. You're not seasoned, experienced or battle tested, and those things matter. That's why I thought 3-1 was a ridiculous price on Charge It (Tapit) in Saturday's Florida Derby. Was I ever wrong.
After finishing second in his debut in January, the Todd Pletcher-trained colt returned Feb. 12 to win a Gulfstream maiden by 8 1/2 lengths. It was a big effort and it earned him a 93 Beyer and the 'TDN Rising Star' designation, which put him in the same ballpark as many of the top 3-year-old colts out there. But he hadn't beaten anything of note and, in the Florida Derby, would be going up against some of the stars of the 3-year-old division. Simplification (Not This Time) was coming off a win in the GII Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth S., White Abarrio (Race Day) had won the GIII Holy Bull S. and Classic Causeway (Giant's Causeway) was coming off back-to-back wins in the GIII Sam F. Davis S. and the GII Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby. All three looked like legitimate candidates for the GI Kentucky Derby.
Charge It didn't win. He finished second behind White Abarrio, losing by 1 1/4 lengths. He finished a length in front of third-place finisher Simplification.
But his race was better than it looks. He ran like a horse who doesn't have the game figured out yet. White Abarrio got the jump on him on the far turn and assumed command after getting past Simplification and Pappacap (Gun Runner), but Charge It was far from done. By the sixteenth-pole, Charge It had moved into second and had about two lengths to make up. From there to the wire, he ran like a big goofball.
Here's the footnote from the race: “…(Charge It) angled four wide near the quarter pole, lugged in under right-handed urging in upper stretch then again near the sixteenth pole, angled back outside of the winner leaving the sixteenth marker, switched back to the left lead and inched closer while still appearing to try to lug in under hand urging.”
“Super pleased with the effort,” Pletcher said. “To get a real education in a race like that was very encouraging. He got a little green down the lane. He kind of drifted in behind [White Abarrio] and felt like if he could have just run straight that last 100 yards, he was going to be right there. But I thought it was a huge effort, considering everything. Overcame some adversity, took some dirt, and did a lot of things right. Just didn't quite polish it off.”
Said jockey Luis Saez, “He was a little bit everywhere at the top of the stretch, but, man, he has so much talent. I think he got a good education from this race. He's going to be a nice horse.”
Charge It figures to benefit immensely from the experience and run even better in the Derby. That doesn't mean he will win the Derby, where he will face a field even tougher than the one he squared off against Saturday at Gulfstream, and his inexperience remains a factor. But by year's end, after races like the GI Runhappy Travers S. and the GI Breeders' Cup Classic, who will be regarded as the top member of this division? Charge It will absolutely be part of the conversation.
That would be good news for owner Mandy Pope, who has spent millions at the sales, primarily on broodmares, but has yet to come up with her first star. She bought Charge It's dam, I'll Take Charge (Indian Charlie), for $2.2 million at the 2013 Keeneland September sale. I'll Take Charge is a half-sister to Grade I stakes winner Take Charge Indy (A.P. Indy) and Grade I winner and Eclipse Award champion Will Take Charge (Unbridled's Song). I'll Take Charge won only one of five career starts, earning just $82,400, but seems ready to pay her owner back with what could be a stellar career as a broodmare.
Classic Causeway's Race is a Mystery
Sent off at 7-2 in the Florida Derby, Classic Causeway (Giant's Causeway) had been among the more consistent members of the 3-year-old colt division, which makes his clunker in Saturday's race all the more perplexing. The winner of the GII Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby led early on but was all done on the far turn. He finished 11thh and last, beaten 21 1/4 lengths.
The race left his trainer, Brian Lynch, to guess what happened.
“Everything seems good. He scoped good and came back good this morning,” Lynch said. “It's a bit of a head-scratcher. We'll digest it and go on from there. Everything is up in the air now. We'll let the dust settle and we'll make a decision in a few days.”
Secret Oath to the Kentucky Oaks
Trainer Wayne Lukas confirmed Sunday that Secret Oath (Arrogate) will go next in the GI Kentucky Oaks after finishing a game third against the boys Saturday in the GI Arkansas Derby.
“I don't want to run her in a 20-horse field and at an extra eighth of a mile,” Lukas said. “That would be asking a lot of her. We'll look at the Oaks and see what we can do after that. I'm not saying we won't step outside the box again at some time. But at this point the Oaks is the logical place to go.”
Lukas has nothing to apologize for. The 7-5 favorite in a $1.25-million race with Kentucky Derby points up for grabs, Secret Oath was last down the backstretch before launching an eye-catching six-wide move on the far turn. She swept past horses, but simply couldn't keep it up. Nonetheless, it was a big effort.
“For her, the race didn't come together smoothly like we would have liked it,” Lukas said. “She got shuffled back at the start and down the backside that horse [Ben Diesel] was laying on us a little bit and we couldn't get away from him. That monster move that she made on the far turn, you had to expect her to flatten out in the last sixteenth. If she could have made that move all the way to the wire we would be open to the world. She made a beautiful move for roughly three-eighths. It was a monster move.”
In the Oaks, Secret Oath will vie for favoritism with Echo Zulu (Gun Runner), last year's 2-year-old filly champion and the recent winner of the GII Fair Grounds Oaks.
Uriah St. Lewis Does It Again
Parx-based trainer Uriah St. Lewis came into Saturday's card at Aqueduct with a record of 0-for-30 on the year, not really a surprise since he is a low-percentage trainer. He may not win a lot, but he somehow finds a way to get the most out of horses who aren't that talented.
For the St. Lewis-trained Forewarned (Flat Out), the bottom line is that the Ohio-bred 7-year-old has now earned $870,883 in his career. That's his total after he won Saturday's $150,000 GIII Excelsior S. Saturday at Aqueduct. This is what St. Louis does. He runs his horses, by modern day standards, often and isn't afraid to throw them into races where they appear to be in over their heads. Last year, Forewarned won the Queens County S. at Aqueduct at odds of 42-1.
Then there's Discreet Lover (Repent). St. Lewis ran him in the 2018 GI Jockey Club Gold Cup when it looked like he didn't have a prayer. All he did was win at odds of 45-1 to earn $433,125. He retired in 2020 with $1,452,735 in career earnings.