Plenty of Stakes Action Saturday

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Ted Black

April 20th, 2019

While many thoroughbred racing enthusiasts are already getting Kentucky Derby fever with the "Run for the Roses" now just two weeks away, both thoroughbred and standardbred racing fans alike will have ample wagering opportunities Saturday afternoon through Saturday night as Charles Town, Laurel Park and Yonkers Raceway all offer lucrative stakes action.

Although many Charles Town fans are accustomed to seeing the horses compete under the lights on Saturday night, tomorrow afternoon the track's signature event, the Grade II, $1 million Charles Town Classic, will be contested well before sunset as toward the latter portion of a 13-race card that begins at 12:30 p.m. Additionally, Charles Town will boast the distinction of hosting the day's most lucrative event.

Saturday's 11th edition of the Grade II, $1 million Charles Town Classic will be contested as the 11th race on the card and features horses from all across the country. Among the 10 starters slated to go postward competed at seven different tracks in their most recent outing, including one from the recent Grade I, $600,000 Santa Anita Handicap, two from Laurel and one hometown horse who has won 11 of 14 starts at Charles Town. Four of the 10 starters have already competed at Charles Town, three in this race.

Among the returning starters for the Classic is defending champion Something Awesome, an eight-year-old Awesome Again gelding trained by Jose Corrales for owner-breeder Frank Stronach. Last spring, Something Awesome won the Classic to cap a three-race win streak that included both the Grade III, $250,000 General George and $100,000 Harrison Johnson at Laurel. His subsequent formal has been dismal, losing four straight races by a combined 56 lengths and he has been eighth once and 10th twice in three of them.

One of the more familiar faces in the Classic is Imperative, a two-time winner of the event and the runner-up in another. He will be making his fifth start in the Classic for a fifth different trainer and like defending champion Something Awesome his recent form has been anything but commendable. In 46 career tries, Imperative owns a 6-8-4 slate and $3.2 million bankroll, of which two wins and over $2 million has come courtesy of this event.

Likewise, War Story will making his third straight appearance in the Classic. The runner-up last spring to Something Awesome and third once year earlier when Imperative edged Matt King Coal, War Story has been winless since the ungraded Challenger Stakes last winter at Tampa Bay Downs, having finished second three times in graded stakes events. He was last seen running sixth in the Grade II, $200,000 Marathon at one-mile and three-quarters at Churchill Downs.

Of course, the horse with the most experience over the strip is Runnin'toluvya, a West Virginia-bred, five-year-old Fiber Sonde gelding owned and trained by Tim Grams. Hero of eight straight local starts and 11 of 14 overall at Charles Town, Runnin'toluvya has won his only two starts traveling the three-turn distance of nine furlongs over the oval for Grams and jockey Oscar Flores, but this will be his first local try against open stakes let alone Grade II competition and the home town hero gets the ultimate acid test.

While three of the runners will be exiting Grade I competition, two of them will be making their seasonal debuts in a tough spot. Discreet Lover won the Grade I, $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup last fall before running eighth in the Breeders Cup Classic and makes his seven-year-old debut. Rally Cry also makes his seven-year-old debut for trainer Todd Pletcher, who will be seeking to notch his third victory in this event having won it previously with Caixa Eletronica and Stanford.

Mongolian Groom competed two weeks ago in the Grade I, $600,000 Santa Anita Handicap and ran well enough to be third at 53-1 behind Gift Box and McKenzie. He notched his diploma last summer in a maiden special weight event on the Santa Anita turf then won an entry level allowance on February 1 before running third in the Big 'Cap. The four-year-old Hightail gelding drew the rail for this event and will have a fitness edge over most of his rivals, although he does get tested for class in this spot.

Diamond King, Nanoosh and Unrbidled Juan arrive off very good efforts, but all three will also get tested for class here. Unbridled Juan is actually the better half of the Corrales tandem now, having finished first twice, second once, third once and fourth once in his last five stakes outings. Diamond King won a stakes race exactly one year ago, having captured the $125,000 Federico Tesio Stakes at Laurel Park to earn a berth in the Grade I, $1.5 million Preakness Stakes taken by eventual Triple Crown hero and horse of the year, Justify.

One race earlier a solid group of fillies and mares will clash in the $100,000 Dance to Bristol Stakes. Named in honor of the former local star who eventually won the Grade I, $500,000 Ballerina Stakes at Saratoga and earned a berth in the starting gate for the Grade I, $1 million Breeders Cup Filly-Mare Sprint, the Dance to Bristol features local star Lake Ponchatrain and the formidable Devine Mischief and Tweeting.

One race earlier it will be older males competing in the $75,000 Russell Road Stakes, named for the durable state-bred runner who earned over $2 million during a prolonged career for trainer James W. Casey and owner Mark Russell. Also on the card are several state-bred stakes for horses of varying ages and the inaugural running of the Immortal Eyes overnight stakes, named in honor of the current track record holder for 4 1/2 furlongs who thrived over the strip for trainer Damon Dilodovico and owner Robert Abbo.

Also on Saturday afternoon, Laurel Park will host a solid, stakes-filled card that will feature the aforementioned Tesio, the last local prep for the Preakness.

Just before the midway point of the card, eight sprinters will clash in the $100,000 Frank Whitely, Jr. Stakes at six furlongs, with the field of eight equally divided among Maryland-breds and Kentucky-breds. Laki and Lewisfield will continue their rivalry and Home Run Maker, an open stakes hero earlier at Laurel this winter, will make his presence known late.

One race later in the inaugural edition of the $100,000 King T. Leatherbury Stakes named for the active, Hall of Fame trainer, a full field of 14 runners will clash in the 5 1/2-furlong dash on the grass. Then one race later it will be the fillies and mares competing in the $100,000 Primonetta Stakes at six furlongs on the main track, followed immediately by the $100,000 Dahlia Stakes for fillies and mares on the Laurel lawn.

But the two main events will soon follow. In the $125,000 Weber City Miss Stakes at nine furlongs on the main track, Las Setas will seek to continue her winning ways and punch her ticket to the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes next month, then one race later Alwaysmining will rule the odds-on choice in the $125,000 Federico Tesio Stakes at nine furlongs and stamp his ticket to the Preakness Stakes next month for trainer Kelly Rubley.

Then on Saturday night, Yonkers Raceway will have the distinction of hosting the first two Grade I events on the calendar for harness horses when the New York half-mile oval offers the $660,000 George Morton Levy Memorial Series final for Free-For-All pacing males and the $400,000 Blue Chip Matchmaker Series final for Free-For-All pacing distaffers.

In the penultimate race on the card, a field of eight will clash in the Levy final but most of the attention will be focused on Western Fame (Daniel Dube). A winner of four Levy legs - three in 1:51.1 or faster - Western Fame will seek to put the finishing touches on his series dominance when he leaves from post five for trainer Rene Allard. Hero of the $100,000 Potomac Pace at Rosecroft Raceway last fall, Western Fame has won four of six starts this year and will go in quest of a 21st career score that would put his lifetime earnings to nearly $1.5 million.

Those not willing to concede the Levy final to Western Fame will have several viable options. More The Better N (Scott Zeron) has won twice in five Levy tries and was third in his last two outings. JJ Flynn (Tim Tetrick) handed Western Fame his lone setback in the series, won a fourth round split then bypassed the fifth round. The Downtown Bus has won twice in series and gets post four. Rodeo Rock (Andrew McCarthy) won the first two Levy rounds then finished third and second in two tries against Western Fame while racing first over. The Wall (Andy Miller) won two legs that basically collapsed, while Ideal Jimmy (Brent Holland) won three legs and was second in two others but drew the dreaded eight hole. Anythingforlove A (Joe Bongiorno) drew the coveted rail following a quartet of lackluster efforts in the series for trainer Jenn Bongiorno.

Two races earlier in the Blue Chip Matchmaker final for fillies and mares, reigning division champion Shartin N (Tetrick) will seek her second straight victory in this event and gets post six after bypassing round five last week. Apple Bottom Jeans (Corey Callahan) won three times in four series tries for trainer Dylan Davis and looms a major player from post two. Bettor Joy N (Dexter Dunn) has won three straight for King, Feelin Red Hot (George Brennan) won twice and finished second three times in five legs, while Seaswift Joy N (Jim Marohn, Jr.) won three legs but gets post eight for the final. Kaitlyn N (Matt Kakaley) was a sharp winner last week and drew the coveted rail for the final.