Several Big Cards on Tap on Saturday

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Ted Black

April 22nd, 2017

While thoroughbred racing fans who closely follow the three-year-olds prepping for the Triple Crown races might view this weekend and next as brief respites before the showdown at Churchill Downs on May 6, many thoroughbred enthusiasts will be keenly watching the numerous stakes at Charles Town and Laurel Park on Saturday and serious harness racing fans will certainly not want to miss a pair of lucrative finals at Yonkers Raceway that same night.

Much of the Saturday afternoon card at Charles Town - a rare daytime card for a track that offers primarily evening contests - is designed to highlight West Virginia-bred races for both genders and varying age groups, but a trio of lucrative stakes toward the end of the card are open events, topped by the Grade II, $1.25 million Charles Town Classic for older horses.

Kicking off the late, all-stakes Pick 4 with a guaranteed pool of $100,000 is the $85,000 Robert Hilton Memorial for three-year-old colts and geldings. Among the expected starters are a pair of Triple Crown nominees, Cool Arrow and Tipu Run, and two other runners from prominent barns in California who were able to graduate at Santa Anita. One other talented local runner is looking to defend the home course.

Cool Arrow spent the early part of the campaign in two-turn stakes for sophomores with serious Kentucky Derby aspirations and he was promptly trounced in both of them. But last fall Cool Arrow ended his juvenile campaign by taking the $300,000 Springboard Mile at Remington Park, two starts after winning the $75,000 Kip Deville Stakes there after graduating in his third career outing against maiden $40,000 claimers at Laurel Park.

While Cool Arrow looms the solid favorite in the Hilton despite the presence of Vibe for trainer Robert Hess, Jr., Farley for trainer Doug O'Neill and Power Walker from the barn of Tom Amoss, local product Poseidon's Prize will seek to defend the home track. A homebred son of Pure Prize trained by Ollie Figgins, III, of Dance to Bristol fame, Poseidon's Prize arrives off a sharp, seven-length score against allowance foes and owns three wins in five starts over the track.

One race later in the $100,000 Sugar Maple Stakes for fillies and mares, invaders Mia Torri and Kinsley Kisses will garner much of the public's support from prominent barns of Jorge Navarro and Todd Pletcher, respectively, against local products Riveter Gloria and Lake Ponchatrain for conditioners Russell Davis and Ernest Haynes. Mia Torri was fourth in the Grade II Inside Information Stakes at Gulfstream Park last month after winning the $100,000 Sunshine Millions Distaff there in January.

Kinsley Kisses scored in her four-year-old debut for Pletcher last month, nearly eight months after finishing seventh in the Grade I Test Stakes at Saratoga in her final sophomore start. She had finished third in three consecutive graded stakes tries prior to that effort and she won her first two starts at this distance at Gulfstream and Tampa Bay the previous winter after being unraced at age two.

Then one race later in the Grade II, $1.25 million Charles Town Classic for older runners at nine furlongs, defending Classic hero Stanford looks to successfully defend his crown for Pletcher, while Classic mainstay Imperative makes his fourth start in the event. Imperative upset Game On Dude in the 2014 edition of the Classic, was second when Moreno set the stakes and track record of 1:48.81 in 2015 then finished a nondescript fourth last year when Stanford prevailed.

Both Stanford and Imperative arrive with two starts each this year, but the Classic will not be their first meeting this spring. Three months earlier, Imperative edged Stanford in a dramatic inaugural edition of the $400,000 Poseidon Stakes at Gulfstream Park on the undercard of the inaugural Grade I, $12 million Pegasus World Cup won by Breeders Cup Classic and Dubai World Cup hero Arrogate. Stanford rebounded to win the $100,000 Challenger Stakes at Tampa Bay last month, while Imperative was ninth, beaten 22 lengths in the Santa Anita Handicap last out.

Perhaps the best horse with the chance to upend them both drew between them. Sunny Ridge, a four-year-old homebred gelded son of Holy Bull trained by Jason Servis, arrives off a pair of open stakes victories over the inner dirt track at Aqueduct. Sunny Ridge has won five of nine starts on fast main tracks, but his narrow victory in the $125,000 Stymie at Aqueduct last month was his first in five tries at nine furlongs. Last year he won the Grade III Withers Stakes over the inner dirt track and was third in the Grade I Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.
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Two spots to his outside is Matt King Coal, winner of his last two open stakes outings at Laurel Park for trainer Linda Rice. War Story, who trounced Sunny Ridge in the Queens County last fall at Aqueduct then was fifth, beaten 13 lengths by Arrogate in the Pegasus World Cup, seeks his first graded stakes score.

That same afternoon at Laurel Park, the centerpiece of a stakes-filled card is the $125,000 Federico Tesio for three-year-old colts and geldings, with the winner likely earning a berth in the starting gate for the Grade I, $1 million Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 20.

Twisted Tom and O Dionysus, the one-two finishers in the $100,000 Private Terms Stakes here last month, will garner plenty of support, as will Pletcher trainee Action Everyday, fourth behind J Boys Echo in the Grade III Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct last month and Carradine, a New York-bred son of Grasshopper who won his last outing at Aqueduct and sports three wins in his last five tries for Linda Rice.

Later that same evening Yonkers Raceway will host the $310,000 Blue Chip Matchmaker final for pacing fillies and mares and the $530,000 George Morton Levy final for older free-for-all pacers on a stellar card that will also include the consolations for both of those events.

Just past the midway point of the card in the BC Matchmaker final, three-time series winner Regil Elektra (Yannick Gingras) and two-time winners Shesjustadelight N (Ron Cushing), Mach It A Par (Jason Bartlett) and Bedroomconfessions (Scott Zeron) will all seek immediate glory and an early edge in the chase for division honors. Both Mach It A Par and Regil Elektra won their prelims last week, while Bedroomconfessions simply wilted as the 2-5 choice.

One race later in the $100,000 Levy consolation, Mach It So (Tim Tetrick) draws the rail in the 100th start of his career for trainer Jeff Bamond, Jr., and is still in quest of his first seasonal score. Right alongside him in Clear Vision (Brett Miller), who bypassed the first two legs but has since recorded one win, one second- and one third-place finish to just barely earn a spot in the elim. But among the eight starters here, however, Clear Vision is perhaps heading into the race in sharpest form as the 11-year-old Western Hanover gelding brings a solid 35-46-38 slate and $2.622 million bankroll into the 210th start of his career.

Fellow Ron Burke trainees Caviart Luca (George Brennan) and Rockin Ron (Gingras) may not have made the final, but they could impact the consolation while starting from posts four and eight, respectively. Wakizashi Hanover, perhaps considered one of the likely candidates to make the final, drew post six as he seeks his first win in 12 starts this year for trainer Jim King, Jr.

Then one race later in the $530,000 George Morton Levy final, McWicked (Matt Kakaley) drew the coveted rail for trainer Steve Elliott and will seek his second straight tally after a pair of second-place efforts. But two spots to his outside is likely favorite Missile J (Tetrick), who suffered his first loss in the series last week in an obvious training mile after starting from post seven and missing the week before since he had already secured a berth in the final.

Two spots to his outside is Somewhere In L A (Bartlett), who could give the trainer-driver tandem of Richard Banca and Bartlett a lucrative double if both he and Mach It A Par prevail in their respective finals Saturday night. After a trio of near missed to start the series, Somewhere In L A arrives with two straight sharp victories and his early speed will make him a presence right off the gate.

Then just to his outside in post six is Bit Of A Legend N (Jordan Stratton), the defending Levy final hero who led throughout to score in 1:51.3 last week for his second tally in five Levy legs. Bit Of A Legend N won all five legs and the final of the series last year, but he began this year's edition with a pair of gritty, second-place efforts before winning first over in 1:52.4 on April 1. Stablemate Provocativeprince N (Gingras) won an opening leg but has disappointed since and barely made the final.

Other finalists include Blood Brother (Brian Sears), who won a leg two starts back in round four, Keystone Velocity (Daniel Dube), who owns two wins in the series, and Soto (Miller), who owns two wins in the series for trainer Eric Ell and owner Kenny Wood, then bypassed round five and then drew post eight for the final.