Seeing double on Charles Town Classic undercard
by Ted Black
No, you weren’t seeing double while watching today’s undercard of the the Grade II, $1.25 million Charles Town Classic.
It just seemed that way, as things kept happening in pairs.
The first two stakes races on the card belonged to trainer Jorge Navarro and jockey Tyler Gaffalione, who — literally — made quick work of their foes.
In the first of those two events, Shaft of Light gained command soon after the break and led throughout to capture the inaugural running of the $50,000 Russell Road Stakes by five lengths in 1:24.93 for the seven furlongs. Then one race later on the card, it was El Deal who was quickest from the gate in the $35,000 Caixa Eletronica Handicap, and the five-year-old Munnings horse romped home by almost eight lengths in 50.66 for the one-turn dash distance of 4 1/2-furlongs.
“When I saw him training at Gulfstream Park this winter, I knew he had a lot of ability,” Navarro said. “We [owners Al & Michelle Crawford] purchased him privately [from trainer Francisco D’Angelo] and right away I knew he was going to be my next X Y Jet. I really love this horse. He’s got that much speed and ability. I think he’s going to do some big things this year.”
X Y Jet was among the best sprinters in the country for a brief period, winning two Grade 3 events at Gulfstream Park and later running second in the $2 million Golden Shaheen and third in the $350,000 Frank De Francis Memorial Dash.
Gaffalione employed the same strategy for both Navarro trainees in the early portion of the card – break on top and improve position.
“Jorge knows how to have them ready,” Gaffalione said. “That El Deal is really, really quick. He broke out of there two lengths clear and he just kept going. He’s going to have a big year for them. That was a good private purchase. Shaft of Light has plenty of early speed. Once he made the front before the first turn he was never really threatened. He’s got some talent, too. I don’t know where these horses are going next, but I’m hoping to be there for the mounts.”
The day’s fifth and sixth races, the $35,000 Down Town Allen Handicap for fillies and mares and the $50,000 Coin Collector Stakes for state-bred three-year-olds, both at the one-turn dash distance, had little in common on their faces.
But as it happened, both were named in honor of horses bred and owned by John A. Casey, who also trained Down Town Allen.
“A lot of people go a long time looking to have one horse that good,” Casey said. “I was fortunate to have Coin Collector when he won the Classic here [in 1992 and ’93] when my brother Jimmy trained him. Then a few years later I had Down Town Allen. It was nice to have two horses that good. Back when Coin Collector raced, they didn’t give you a trainer’s license if you were a blacksmith. But by the time Down Town Allen started racing, I could train horses. That was special today seeing races named for those two horses.”
In the Down Town Allen, Scarlet Emerald and Wesley Ho gained command soon after the break from along the rail and just outlasted the late bids of 16-1 outsider Boppin Rocket and 9-5 favorite In Mid Heir to prevail by a neck in 52.88.
Then 30 minutes later, Hot Mic, with Matt McGowan up, benefited from patient handling to overhaul the speedy Cuttin Tech Edge and then edged Pistolinmypocket for a head score in 53.91 for the distance. Hot Mic remained unbeaten in two starts for trainer Ollie Figgins, III, and owner-breeder Naomi Long, McGowan’s mother-in-law.
“He matured so much since his first start,” McGowan said. “I don’t think being gelded had anything to do with it. I just think that experience of the first start helped him. He’s a nice colt. It’s great to be back. Being able to ride horses like this for Ollie and my mother-in-law always helps.”
Jockey Christian Hiraldo took center stage in the next two races, the $50,000 It’s Binn Too Long Stakes for state-bred three-year-old fillies and the Original Gold older fillies and mares going seven furlongs.
In the former, Moonlit Song lived up to her role as the 2-5 favorite when she broke alertly from post seven to sit just off Brooksie Robinson down the backside, advanced to collar that one through the far turn and drew clear in the lane to a three-length score over Lies and Scandals. A sophomore daughter of Fiber Sonde owned, bred and trained by Tim Grams, Moonlit Song recorded her third straight victory and posted her fourth win in six career outings and pushed her lifetime earnings to nearly $80,000.
“She won that two-turn allowance race here last time and I really don’t like to cut a horse back to one turn after they’ve been two turns,” Grams said. “But she came out of that last race really good and this race just seemed perfect for her. I sharpened her up a bit to have her ready and she ran a great race. Her dam [Malibu Kitten] delivered a foal at six o’clock this morning, so how cool is that that this filly won on the day her mom delivered another foal? I’ll probably run her back here in the Fancy Buckles Stakes [on Preakness Day, May 20]. I trained that mare, so it would be nice to win that race with this horse.”
Hiraldo has been aboard Moonlit Song for all six of her career outings, guiding her to four wins, all of them in sharp fashion by a combined sum of nearly 20 lengths. Like Grams, Hiraldo was just hoping the filly would break well and stay close to the speed early before launching her bid.
“She’s just a tremendous filly to ride,” Hiraldo said. “She does everything so well. She has speed and she seems to have another gear. I wasn’t worried about her cutting back in distance. She’s able to stay close to the speed and then she knows how to finish. She’s just a pleasure to ride.”
In the Original Gold, Hiraldo was back in the winner’s circle after steering Spa Creek to a mild upset victory over stablemate T Rex Express. In her first start of the season, Spa Creek benefited from patient handling from Hiraldo early and then launched her bid with three furlongs to run and overhauled T Rex Express in the final yards to give trainer Jeff Runco a one-two finish in 1:27.40 for the seven panels.
“There was a lot of speed up front, so I just took my time early,” Hiraldo said. “I just waited for the speed to give way a little and then I made my move. She has plenty of finishing kick. When we turned for home, I knew I was going by that other filly.”
Spa Creek easily won the West Virginia Breeders Classic Distaff last fall and Runco indicated that would be her primary target again later this year. T Rex Express delivered a good effort in defeat in her second sharp try of the season, and Runco intimated that she would be campaigned lightly through the spring and summer and then gear up for a possible bid in the Cavada. T Rex Express has actually been second in all three of her local stakes outings, having also been the runner-up in the WV Division of Tourism BC last fall and the Sylvia Bishop Memorial six weeks earlier.
“We’re going to try to keep them apart the rest of the way,” Runco said. “Spa Creek definitely wants to go longer. She likes that one-mile and an eighth. T Rex Express has run two good races since she’s been back. We’ll point her for the seven-furlong stakes this summer and hope to have her ready for the Cavada. It’s still a long way off, so we’ll have to wait and see.”