Charles Town Offers Grade II, $1.25 Million Classic

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Ted Black

April 21st, 2016

Thoroughbred racing fans are accustomed to seeing horses compete at Charles Town under the lights every Saturday night, but this Saturday the Jefferson County, West Virginia oval will host a 13-race card that gets under way at 12:45 and will culminate with the Grade II, $1.25 million Charles Town Classic, a nine-furlong event for older horses.

In previous years the Charles Town Classic had several marquee names in the entry box, including Shared Belief, Moreno, Game On Dude and Commentator. But while this year's version of the Classic features a trio of horses exiting the Grade I $1 million Santa Anita Handicap, the longshot winner of the Grade II New Orleans Handicap, the runner-up of the Grade II Gulfstream Park Handicap and the hero of the Grade III General George, this year's Classic does not boast a Grade I winner.

Nevertheless a full field of 10 runners will go postward in the latest renewal of the Classic just past 6 pm on Saturday. Without the presence of a genuine standout, favoritism could belong to any number of horses and the eventual favorite should be no lower than 5-2 when the gates open.

Vying for favoritism will be the three horses exiting the Santa Anita Handicap, Donworth, Imperative and Hard Aces as well as International Star, Stanford and Page McKenney, who finished third in the race last year.

Of the three horses exiting the Big 'Cap, Imperative has clearly had the most success over the strip. Two years ago he posted a 27-1 upset over Game On Dude and last year he finished second as Moreno scored in track record time.

Donworth finished seventh in the Big 'Cap as the 5-2 second choice that day, but has every right to rebound at a generous price. Hard Aces finished second in the Big 'Cap at 22-1, but is worth playing against this weekend at a much shorter price.

International Star, one of the sport's top three-year-olds in 2015 before being sidelined with an injury, has raced well in three starts back this year and merits respect in the Classic. Stanford has been second in each of his first two starts against graded foes for Pletcher and looms a major player here, as does Maryland invader Page McKenney. The six-year-old Eavesdropper gelding brings a four-race win streak into the Classic for trainer Mary Eppler and raced well last year in this event in his only previous outing over the strip.

S'marvelous posted a 22-1 upset in the Grade II New Orleans last out but may be hard to take at a shorter price. Sonny Inspired has won two minor sprint stakes at Laurel this year and tries three turns for the first time in his local debut.

One horse that has had ample experience and success in three-turn stakes over the strip is Chatitable Annuity. A four-year-old Charitable Man gelding trained by longtime local fixture James W. Casey for owner Mark Russell of Russell Road game, Charitable Annuity ended his previous campaign with sharp scores in both the West Virginia Breeders Classic and the A Huevo, both at nine furlongs here and he already has two races over the track this year and looms as the biggest sentimental favorite in the Classic.

The Charles Town Classic is the third open stakes on the card, following the Sugar Maple for fillies and mares and the Robert Hilton for three-year-old colts and geldings. Like the Classic, both of those races appear deep and contentious, so handicappers and betters who select all three winners should be well rewarded for their successful choices.

Just before the open stakes get under way, local onlookers will welcome the return of the venerable and durable Russell Road. The 10-year-old Wheaton gelding will make his seasonal debut for Casey and Russell in the Confucius Say Stakes, a race he won last year in his seasonal debut. Russell Road has won 30 of 58 starts and banked over $1.96 million in his career and Saturday's Confucius Say Stakes will be his first of likely only three outings this year.