I don't want the only thing I ever write about here [or anywhere] to be rants about the early retirements of perfectly sound racehorses or exaltations of owners who allow their currently elite racehorses to continue to race. However, it's something that matters to me a lot, and I saw some chatter today that shocked me.
After the Breeders' Cup Classic, even before it was announced that he was running in the Clark Handicap, I thought it was pretty obvious that Will Take Charge would be running as a four-year-old. Despite a less-than-impressive Triple Crown season, he just kept getting better and better as the year went on, and by the end of the year he was really coming into his own. That second place in the Breeders' Cup Classic was impressive (as much as it pains me to say it, as someone who was pulling with all their heart for Palace Malice to capture that three-year-old colt crown!), and I thought that was enough for Will Take Charge to win his division this year. In fact, I was surprised to see that Will Take Charge would be running again this year - I was pretty convinced he had the divisional Eclipse sealed after that performance in the Classic, and only had everything to lose in another race before next year. I thought he'd be taking a well-deserved rest, and coming back next year. Seeing that he was running the Clark was a pleasant surprise, and the close race that transpired today between him and Game On Dude was everything we could have hoped for.
Before tonight, I had not seen any sort of scuttlebutt that he would be retiring to stud after this year. In fact, before he won the Clark, I had not seen anything implying that Will Take Charge would do anything but grow into himself, and continue to run next year.
Then, once he won the Clark, I started hearing that even though D. Wayne Lukas hoped he would be able to race again as a four-year-old, that it would be up to Willis Horton to make a decision next week as to whether he would race again or go to stud. Of course, this does not mean that Will Take Charge is surely going out to stud, or even probably going out to stud. However, I am disturbed by the idea that it's even an option that he may go out to stud next year. He is still so young, and he is just coming into his own as a racehorse through the second half of his three-year-old season.
Will Will Take Charge have value at stud? Certainly...he's by Unbridled's Song out of Take Charge Lady. That's no slouch of a background, and his racing record thus far only adds to that. He will be an attractive stud prospect whenever he retires, be it now or later.
However, thinking of the sport as a whole, I cannot think of a three-year-old who it would be worse to retire than Will Take Charge. Think about it. Oxbow was retired due to injury. Orb...there are still clouds and questions hanging over his retirement. Maybe he was injured, maybe he is a bleeder, and maybe he was just retired. I cannot begin to know. Verrazano is still running respectably, though he may have peaked earlier in his three year old year.
I understand Oxbow's retirement. I wonder about Orb's retirement. I find Verrazano's retirement somewhat frustrating.
Will Take Charge? He is racing spectacularly, and I doubt he has peaked. He is holding his own with older horses now, and there is nothing to suggest anything but that he will continue to race well, or even get better. Barring a training injury or an expression by the horse of a desire not to run, I cannot imagine Will Take Charge being anything less than game next year, and can see him being potentially great.
Is it a risk to keep a race horse running? Of course. However, it's a risk as a two-year-old. It's a risk as a three-year-old. It's always a risk. However, there's no way the sport can survive without fans, and there's no way the sport will make new fans (or keep them) without exciting horses that we can follow over a period of time. Will Take Charge has shown that he is an exciting horse, an elite horse, and a horse worth following. Taking him away from the sport now would be a tragedy, and I hope Willis Horton decides to race him as a four-year-old.