LOUISVILLE — There are timekeeping pieces that could do worse than to emulate the consistency of champion Will Take Charge. Since that October afternoon at Keeneland in 2012 when he broke his maiden second time out, the chestnut colt with the unmistakable white face hasn't stopped.
The last 21 months have featured 18 starts from the current star of trainer D. Wayne Lukas' barn, a freakish display of durability from a runner whose bloodlines and big-bodied frame some claim should have made him susceptible to common racehorse frailties.
The more his Hall of Famer conditioner asked of him, though, the better the son of Unbridled's Song got. Thus, it is going to take more than one "off" day to shake Lukas' confidence in the horse.
Having suffered his first off-the-board effort in 11 months last time out, Will Take Charge will attempt to reassert himself in the handicap division as he breaks from post No. 4 against eight challengers, including 2-to-1 morning-line favorite Revolutionary, in Saturday's Grade I, $500,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs.
After stringing together eight consecutive starts where he was not worse than second, circumstances finally caught up with Will Take Charge in the Grade II Alysheba Stakes at Churchill on May 2 when he finished sixth behind race winner and fellow Stephen Foster entrant Moonshine Mullin after being trapped inside for much of the race.
Some saw that effort as a sign of fatigue setting in while others wrote it off as an unfortunate trip over a 11⁄16-mile distance too short for the colt's liking. Lukas, for one, isn't getting caught up in too much analysis other than to say he's got the 4-year-old colt primed for Saturday's 11⁄8-mile test.
"I think he's had a really good month," Lukas said Wednesday morning. "I don't have a lot of explanations, I haven't done anything special with him. But I just think sometimes these horses have a subpar day.
"I don't know that he was due (for an off outing) because he trained so well going into the Alysheba. It was shocking to me a little bit but, again, he's had a great month now and done everything right. His energy is stronger right now."
Sure enough, there is a long line of those who regret dismissing Will Take Charge in the past.
His 3-year-old campaign is proof positive why any talk of year-end accolades should indeed be saved for year's end. After finishing off the board in all three Triple Crown races, Will Take Charge won the Grade I Travers, came within a lip of taking the Breeders' Cup Classic and then beat older horses in the Grade I Clark Handicap at Churchill to earn the 2013 Eclipse Award for champion 3-year-old male.
Though he began this year with back-to-back runner-up efforts in the Grade I Donn and Grade I Santa Anita handicaps for owners Willis Horton and Three Chimneys Farm, Lukas felt emboldened enough to declare in March, "He's the best horse in the country; he'll prove that."
A victory in the Grade II Oaklawn Handicap over Revolutionary in April added some credence to those words though he did have to survive a stewards' inquiry and claims of foul after he appeared to come in during the stretch run.
"He is going to get to prove it," Lukas said. "The Whitney (at Saratoga Aug. 2) will be a very good race and we are headed there. We're going to continue to have good rivalries and we'll see who is the last man standing. And he might be a fall horse. I don't know if Venus is aligning with Mars or what, but it seems like some horses have certain parts of the year that they run better.
"He's looking like he's headed that way now."
The Stephen Foster headlines Churchill's "Downs After Dark" card which features three other graded stakes races.
Commissioner sidelined with ankle chip
WinStar Farm's Commissioner, runner-up to Tonalist in Saturday's Belmont Stakes, will be sidelined until the fall after he was discovered Monday to have a small chip in his front left ankle.
The 3-year-old son of A.P. Indy is scheduled this week for a small surgical procedure at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital.
"Commissioner was sent back to WinStar Farm on Sunday for a brief freshening before targeting the major late-summer 3-year-old races. The first day back he looked good, but on the second day he had some filling in his left ankle," said WinStar Farm president Elliott Walden. "We ... discovered he had a small lateral P1 chip that Dr. (Larry) Bramlage said would be very easy to take out. He'll obviously get the proper recovery time, but there's a good chance Commissioner will be able to return by the fall."