Fresh Page McKenney can fire big at Charles Town

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

April 23rd, 2016

If there's one thing to keep in mind when analyzing Saturday's $1.25 million Charles Town Classic (G2), it's that positive experience over the track is seemingly more important here than it is for other races.

This shouldn't be too surprising. Charles Town is the only five-furlong dirt track in the country that hosts a graded stakes, thus horses of this quality are rarely exposed to running actual races over such a small oval (morning training is different matter).

History bears this out. Researcher won the first two editions of this race in 2009-10 after prepping over the track. Game On Dude ran second in 2011 before winning in 2013 and placing in 2014. Duke of Mischief won the 2011 Classic and came back the following year to run second at 12-1. Last year Moreno sprung the 7-1 upset after running third in 2014.

If the trend continues, Imperative can be a beneficiary. The six-year-old has saved his very best for this race, winning in 2014 at 26-1 and finishing second to Moreno last year at 31-1. Indeed, he actually hasn't won since that 2014 Classic, though he's become a somewhat more reliable check-getter in his home base of Southern California of late, running second in three of his past four starts.

There's another class horse in the field who's a more reliable winner's circle visitor and has run well over the track. Page McKenney finish third in last year's Classic, 2 1/2 lengths behind runner-up Imperative, after a wide trip. He appears to have been trained with this race in mind since the fall, when he kicked off a win streak now sitting at four races.

After three straight stakes wins around two turns, trainer Mary Eppler successfully shortened up Page McKenney to seven furlongs for the General George (G3), which he won in game fashion by a head. With a two-month break since that outing, the likeable millionaire enters the Classic relatively fresh and a bettable 6-1 on the morning line.

Earlier Saturday, in the $250,000 Elkhorn (G2) at Keeneland, Kaigun and Da Big Hoss appear the ones to beat in the 1 1/2-mile grass test. However, Argentinean import Idolo Porteno offers some appeal at a price if only due to trainer Ignacio Correas and jockey Paco Lopez having twice scored major upsets on the Keeneland grass since last week.

Last Sunday, the barn's Kasaqui registered a 30-1 upset in the allowance nightcap, and on Wednesday the team celebrated a 15-1 score by La Piba in another turf allowance.

A dual-surface Group 1 winner in Argentina, including the 2014 Gran Premio Carlos Pellegrini, South America's 1 1/2-mile equivalent to the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (G1), Idolo Porteno finished a solid third in the Razorback H. (G3) in his U.S. debut after attracting some early money. While the form of that race wasn't flattered in the subsequent Oaklawn H. (G2), Idolo Porteno has a chance to improve in his second start back and his competency on the turf and at the distance speaks for itself.

South American form often doesn't carry over to the U.S., but Idolo Porteno's 12-1 morning line price is attractive enough for me to toss a few bucks in his direction.

(Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club)