by Ted Black
Lucy’s Bob Boy and Russell Road have met six times since the beginning of 2014, with the former owning four wins in that period. But it was Russell Road who scored the biggest, and most memorable, win in that time, running down his younger rival on the money in the 2014 West Virginia Breeders Classic.
When the top state-bred older males clash again Saturday night in the latest renewal of the $500,000 West Virginia Breeders Classic, the feature race on the West Virginia Breeders Classics card on Saturday night at Charles Town, onlookers will once again expect another dramatic showdown between the venerable Russell Road and longtime nemesis Lucy’s Bob Boy.
But this year’s renewal of the nine-furlong Classic will have an added twist. Hidden Canyon, the talented Javier Contreras trainee who has thrived locally in the two-turn sprints at 6 1/2- and seven-furlongs, is going to try to stretch his speed around three turns for the first time. His presence could make life difficult for Lucy’s Bob Boy, who likes to control the tempo on the front end, and a fast pace could enable closers such as Allegheny Jack, Captain Klink and Little Big Sime to be factors late.
“Having him in there certainly makes things very interesting,” said James W. Casey, who will saddle both Russell Road and three-year-old Charitable Annuity for the Classic. Russell Road is the defending champion of the event, while Charitable Annuity, like Hidden Canyon, tries three turns for the first time. “I know a lot of people think of him just as a seven-furlong horse, but he’s got plenty of speed and talent. He ran against some good ones last start here and ran well. He’s definitely going to be a factor early in the race.”
While Hidden Canyon exits the $100,000 Wild & Wonderful Stakes, an open event captured by Pants On Fire for the second straight year, Russell Road prevailed in the $30,000 Roger Ramey Handicap that same evening in his final tuneup for the Classic. Russell Road actually finished second to Lucy’s Bob Boy in the 2014 edition of the Ramey, but attained sweet revenge by overtaking his arch-rival in the Classic.
“He and Lucy’s Bob Boy have been rivals for a long time,” Casey said. “It seems like every year one of them wins the Classic. Last year we got it, but Lucy’s Bob Boy is tough. He likes going long just as much as my horse. I’m interested to see how well Charitable Annuity does going long. I think he’s going to run his race. I’m not sure how well he’ll do against those type of horses.”
Russell Road has plenty of experience in the three-turn route races at Charles Town, sporting a 15-7-6-0 ledger going three turns, including five wins and three second-place finishes from 10 tries at the nine-furlong distance of the Classic. The nine-year-old Wheaton gelding has only made four starts this year, winning twice. In 44 previous starts over the strip, Russell Road boasts a 25-9-6 slate and earnings of over $1.7 million. He has won 30 of 57 starts overall, with lifetime earnings about $40,000 shy of the $2 million plateau.
At six, Lucy’s Bob Boy has also enjoyed a stellar local career and fittingly, will start right alongside Russell Road on Saturday night. The Flatter gelding, trained by Sandra Dono for owner Michael Furr, won the Classic at age three in 2012, but faded badly in his title defense one year later before finishing a solid second to Russell Road last fall. He did attain a measure of revenge over Russell Road in the A Huevo Stakes one month later and earlier defeated his older nemesis in the Frank Gall Memorial.
Like Hidden Canyon, Lucy’s Bob Boy arrives having competed most recently in the Wild & Wonderful Stakes, where an awkward start cost him any chance of upending Pants On Fire, who may next head to the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, an event in which he ran third a year ago, later this month at Keeneland. Lucy’s Bob Boy has won four of nine starts at the three-turn distance of nine furlongs here and sports 25 wins in 36 career tries at Charles Town. His career bankroll is on the cusp of $1 million.
“That last race just wasn’t his race,” Dono said. “He had his head turned at the start and he wasn’t ready for the break. He wasn’t able to run his race. Fortunately, he came back out of it fine. He was mad that he couldn’t run. He’s trained good and I think he’ll run his race on Saturday. I don’t know how much Hidden Canyon will affect us. He’s got a lot of speed, but we beat him and Russell Road in the Gall two starts ago. I’m hoping that’s the type of race we get out of our horse this weekend.”
Trainer Ollie Figgins, III of Dance to Bristol fame, will saddle two horses in the Classic. Since both Allegheny Jack and Prince of Windsor prefer to do their best running from well off the pace, the conditioner was pleased to see Hidden Canyon drop in the box. Allegheny Jack was third behind Russell Road and Little Big Sime in the Ramey, and he was second to Lucy’s Bob Boy in the A Huevo last fall after winning the WVBC Lottery Stakes for three-year-olds on Classics night.
“I think both of my horses are a little better at seven-eighths, but I think with Hidden Canyon in there he’s going to insure a fast early pace,” Figgins said. “Both of mine like to come from well off the pace. Allegheny Jack has a good closing kick, so hopefully it will set up well for him. If they go fast fractions early, I like my chances of getting a good piece of it anyway. They’ve both been training well coming into it.”
Despite his unfamiliarity with the extra distance and third turn, Hidden Canyon figures to be a major factor in the Classic. The five-year-old Fiber Sonde gelding trained by Javier Contreras for owner Phyllis Susini has won nine of 13 career outings and been second three times. His only true blemish came courtesy of a post-race medication violation in 2013 when he was disqualified from an allowance victory.
Longtime local leading trainer Jeff Runco will have a busy night on Saturday, which will include saddling homebreds Airspeed in the Classic and Slip The Cable in the West Virginia Lottery and Bullets Fever, a two-year-old full brother to Hidden Canyon, in the Vincent Moscarelli Memorial. Bullets Fever won his career debut last Wednesday as the tepid 2-1 favorite going 4 1/2-furlongs and will try two turns on Saturday for the first time.
“It’s always an exciting night for us,” Runco said. “A lot of the races look very competitive this year. They’re all very wide open, even the Classic. Me and Susan don’t have a lot of mares [at Coleswood Farm] but we’re doing well in the business from that side of it. We’re certainly hoping Airspeed and Slip The Cable run well for us. Bullets Fever has some ability. I told [owner] David [Raim] I would run him on Classics night if he came out of that first race okay and he bounced back pretty nicely, so we’re going to try him in there and see how he does.”
Trainer John A. Casey was hoping to run One More Time in the Classic, but a minor injury forced him to reconsider. So Casey’s hopes among the boys’ races on Saturday night will rest with Hear the Chatter, a three-year-old Mass Media gelding owned and bred by Kristy Petty, who is the morning line favorite in the West Virginia Lottery BC at seven furlongs. Hear the Chatter has won three of five starts this year after taking five of seven tries last year, including the Moscarelli Memorial on Classics night.
“We were hoping to run them both on Saturday, but we had a little setback with One More Time, so I decided not to enter him in the Classic,” said Casey, who will perhaps always be linked with the late Down Town Allen. “But Hear the Chatter is coming into the race pretty good. He chased Hidden Canyon a few starts back and then he came up a little short in the Leavitt. But he bounced back from that and won last time. I think he’ll be okay in there on Saturday.”