Back in February, Imperative rallied into a sharp pace, made the lead but then was outfinished in the Grade 2 San Antonio Handicap at Santa Anita.
Bettors yawned. From 26-1 in the San Antonio, he went off at 35-1 in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap. And that day, he ran like a 35-1 shot, making no impact en route to a distant seventh-place finish.
So it was no great surprise that bettors in last night’s Grade 2 Charles Town Classic didn’t show much interest in the brown son of Bernardini. They made him, at 26.50-1, the second-longest shot on the board — longer, even, than local hopeful Lucy’s Bob Boy.
Yet when the dust had settled, it was Imperative who rallied from fifth to score an authoritative 1 1/2 length victory over odds-on defending champ Game On Dude.
“He didn’t do much running last time [in the Santa Anita Handicap], but I was very confident this is the kind of horse he is,” said his jockey, Hall of Famer Kent Desormeaux. “He can do this.”
Indeed he can.
The widely expected speed duel developed almost immediately. On the inside, Moreno, under Joel Rosario, came out running. From the outside, Arnaldo Bocachica put Lucy’s Bob Boy in the fray. And in between sat Mike Smith and Game On Dude. The opening half-mile was a sharp 46 4/5 seconds.
“I saw them leave like Banshee Indians,” Desormeaux explained.
Soon, a too-eager Long River moved into fourth, within two lengths of the lead, and Desormeaux was able to tuck Imperative into fifth, running freely.
“The second turn, I was running over the top of them, pitched him out and went even faster,” Desormeaux noted. Long River confronted Game On Dude leaving the second turn, and Desormeaux steered Imperative outside of those two.
“By the time we got to the eighth pole I hadn’t even asked him yet,” the jock continued. “He was already passing them, and when I cued him, he just exploded.”
It was heady stuff for a horse who’d been claimed for $50,000 in December and who, prior to last night, was still eligible for a second-level allowance race.
“We got lucky with it, I guess,” said Imperative’s Santa Anita-based trainer, George Papaprodromou. “We put blinkers and a figure eight on him, and it worked out perfect.”
“Game On Dude is a great horse, don’t get me wrong,” he added. “I just loved the way my horse was improving and coming along. So I just took a shot and came out here.”
CHARLES TOWN NOTES
On the evening’s undercard, favorites thrived, but a couple of upsets added spice to the mix. In the $200,000 Sugar Maple for older fillies and mares, Flattering Bea, who for her entire career had been a deep closer, showed speed from the first jump, tracking early pace-setter Wardelle from second, moved to a clear lead in the lane and held off odds-on Quiet Success for a 5-1 upset.
“We worked her out of the gate two weeks ago at Pimlico in :48,” explained trainer Crystal Pickett when asked about her charge’s newfound early lick. “We knew we needed to fix that problem of slow starts…”
Earlier in his career, Rise Up had looked the part of a Triple Crown contender, an impression fostered by his easy win in the Grade 3 Delta Jackpot. Two dismal defeats had considerably dimmed his star when he arrived last night for the $100,000 Robert Hilton Memorial for three year-olds.
But he, well, rose up (sorry about that) yesterday, and simply ran his foes off their feet, cruising to a 10 3/4 length victory at odds-on.
“He broke good, but it took a while to get to the lead,” said rider Leandro Goncalves, “and then he relaxed…”
Another upset took place in the $50,000 Webb Snyder Charles Town Dash, when Uncle Todd ran away from the field to a five-length win in 51.21 seconds. Fan- and betting favorite Immortal Eyes came in second at odds-on.
Trainer Kevin Patterson and owner Robert Cole had claimed Uncle Todd for all of $8,000 in January.
“Four-and-a-half [furlongs] is a funny distance. It’s such a weird distance,” said Cole. “You can get a horse for $8,000 and win a stake with them, and Kevin Patterson is good with them…”
Handle for the 14-race card was $3,578,237. That was a nearly 19 percent decline versus last year’s record haul of nearly $4.4 million.
(Featured image of Imperative by Coady Photography.)