by Ted Black
On an afternoon that many Charles Town racing fans will remember as the day that Shared Belief pulled up as the 3-10 favorite in the Grade 2, $1.5 million Charles Town Classic, a handful of local owners and trainers had plenty to savor on an undercard which featured seven races for horses bred in West Virginia. Even so, it was a day of conflicting emotions.
Trainer John A. Casey won the first race on the card with Hear the Chatter in the $50,000 added Coin Collector Stakes — named in honor of a horse that he had owned — and he won the nightcap with Comeonletsplay. But even after the finale, it was difficult for Casey to consider celebrating. Another of his charges, Down Town Allen, the durable queen of state-bred mares, pulled up lame nearing the three-eighths pole of the $50,000 Original Gold Stakes and had to be vanned off.
“She suffered a suspensory injury during the race, but nothing was broken,” Casey said after Saturday’s finale. “We’re hoping that she can be a broodmare now. Her injury was nothing life-threatening, but she won’t run again. She had a great career. She was always a treat to bring over to the track. You never expect to have a homebred that good.”
Down Town Allen, an eight-year-old Windsor Castle mare that Casey owned, bred and trained, concluded her career with 25 wins and earnings of just over $1 million from 42 lifetime starts. She had also won 24 of 38 outings at Charles Town overall, including 14 straight prior to Saturday.
Casey probably could not have started the day any better, however, as Hear the Chatter captured the Coin Collector Stakes in 52.03 for the one-turn dash distance of 4 1/2-furlongs in his three-year-old debut. Hear the Chatter has now won six of eight lifetime starts and banked over $216,000 along the way. He has won all six of his starts over the local strip, with his defeats coming at Delaware Park in his second start and at Laurel Park in his freshman finale.
“He came back really good,” Casey said. “He had been training great coming into the race. I think he’ll do really well in the state-bred stakes here. He loves this track.”
One race after Down Town Allen’s injury, another popular old-timer had a happier return to the races. In the seven-furlong Confucius Say Stakes, for state-breds, Russell Road displayed plenty of signs of youthful vigor in his aging legs when he broke very alertly to gain command before passing the finish line the first time and maintained a clear lead throughout and a comfortable margin to the wire for a four-length score in 1:23.96 for the seven panels. A nine-year-old Wheaton gelding trained by James W. Casey for owner Mark Russell, Russell Road kicked off his campaign in sharp fashion while handing favored Lucy’s Bob Boy his second defeat in four starts this season.
“It’s amazing. His demeanor has never changed,” Russell said of Russell Road, who has now won 29 of 54 lifetime starts and banked over $1.93 million. He has won 24 of 42 outings over the local strip, including 14 of 23 attempts at the seven-furlong distance. “We would not have brought him back if we thought he could not compete at this level. The break is the key for him. The break is a key for a lot of horses. He still loves training and he still loves racing. Today might have been one of his best efforts, and that’s unusual for a nine-year-old.”
Several races later on the card, Get the Sensation kicked off the all-stakes Pick Four with a sharp score as the even-money choice in the $50,000 Its Binn Too Long Stakes for state-bred three-year-old fillies. A sophomore daughter of Not For Love trained by Crystal Pickett for owner Jill Daniel, Get the Sensation notched her third straight win to start the campaign by leading throughout en route to a five-length tally in 51.29 for the 4 1/2-furlongs. It was the first stakes win for jockey Stevica Djuric.
“She’s a true redhead,” Pickett said of the chestnut Get the Sensation. “She’s the boss. She has to have everything her way. She’s really quick and she loves it here. From the time we started with her, I knew she would be a nice filly. I’m glad for the owner. The Daniels have owned and bred horses around here for a long time. They deserve to have a good one. She might go next in the Miss Preakness Stakes at Pimlico or we might wait for another state-bred race here.”
Two races later on the card, Pickett nearly reached the winner’s circle again with one of her local proven commodities. But in the final yards of the $150,000 Sugar Maple, a race she won last year, Flattering Bea was nailed late by Taketheodds, under jockey Mike Smith. It would prove to the highlight of the day for Smith, who pulled up Shared Belief just past the clubhouse turn in the Charles Town Classic. Nevertheless, it was a gritty effort from Flattering Bea, who tasted defeat for only the third time in eight local outings for Pickett and owner-breeder James Arrison.