Lukas' aversion to padding win percentage often pays off


I am old enough to recall when statistical data was bare bones in the Daily Racing Form. Old-school handicappers, who kept their own records, had a big edge over those who relied solely upon past performances.

I say this because the game has changed dramatically, with computer-generated data coming out of the proverbial wazoo.

But one statistic, namely a trainer’s win percentage, in many ways has hurt the game. Some trainers are so sensitive of their win percentage that they won’t run a horse unless they are among the top choices in a race.

One trainer who never has let that bother him is D. Wayne Lukas. The Hall of Fame trainer won the races and stakes he was supposed to win when he had the best horse. But he also won many times with long shots, because you can’t win if you don’t enter.

Lukas never has been afraid of losing when the rewards from winning are so much greater. A prime example of that philosophy is his colt Will Take Charge.

Will Take Charge has won four of 12 starts but never has been the betting favorite. In fact, the shortest price he has gone off was 5-1 when he broke his maiden at Keeneland on Oct. 12.

Will Take Charge was 12-1 when he won the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn Park. Later in the spring, he won the Rebel, also at Oaklawn, at 28-1 odds. Then at Saratoga, Will Take Charge won the Travers and paid $21.20.

This colt has made $1.26 million and never been favored.

The Travers upset thrust this Lukas colt into the middle of a wild scrum to win the Eclipse Award in the 3-year-old division.

Five horses have won five Grade 1 stakes starting with the Kentucky Derby: Orb (Derby), Oxbow (Preakness), Palace Malice (Belmont), Verrazano (Haskell) and Will Take Charge (Travers).

Will Take Charge will start next in either the Pennsylvania Derby at Parx or against his elders in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park. If he goes to Parx, he might be the favorite.

That matters little to Lukas. He went into the Travers with one win in 38 starts at the Saratoga meet. But all he cares about now is that the Travers canoe, floating in the Saratoga infield lake, has been painted the colors of Willis Horton, the owner of Will Take Charge.

■ UPON FURTHER REVIEW — Twitter was ablaze after Game On Dude’s record eight-length win in the Pacific Classic. It was a tour de force performance but with a caveat. The early fractions, six furlongs in 1:12 3/5, were slower than the average morning workouts by Game On Dude. I doubt the Breeders’ Cup Classic will have such a slow pace, especially with $5 million on the line.

Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at rich_eng@hotmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick.