Full field set to contest G2 Charles Town Classic
Something Awesome won the ’18 Charles Town Classic. Photo by Coady Photography.
A full field of ten runners, including multiple past champions of the race, will take to the gate this Saturday at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races as the track hosts its premier event of the season – the $1,000,000 Charles Town Classic (G2) for older horses going the three-turn distance of 1 1/8 miles. West Virginia’s most lucrative race highlights a card that includes eight stakes with total purses for the day falling just short of $1.6 million. Post time for the first race on the card is 12:30pm EST.
While not one of the prior winners in the field, Imaginary Stables and Glenn Ellis’ War Story easily could be having missed first by only a half-length in the 2017 edition of the Charles Town Classic and a neck in last year’s running. Over the course of his career, the seven-year-old gelding hasn’t missed many big dances running in 23 graded stakes including three Breeders’ Cups, a pair of Pegasus World Cup’s and the 2015 Kentucky Derby (G1).
However, after a dull effort in the Marathon (G2) at Churchill Downs in November, trainer Jorge Navarro gave the durable War Story something he hadn’t had since the end of his three-year-old campaign – some extended time off.
“This is the first real break he’s had since I started training him, and there’s no doubt that the break has done him good. He’s been training really, really well and we know he obviously likes the track.”
And as far as the close calls at Charles Town are concerned, Navarro hopes this time, War Story might be able to emulate the performance of his stablemate who recently broke through after some narrow defeats.
“I’ve been joking that now that X Y Jet finally broke through after all those close calls in Dubai, now it’s War Story’s turn here at Charles Town.”
Kendrick Carmouche will ride War Story, the lukewarm 7-to-2 morning line favorite, who breaks from post 9. Carmouche won the first ever Charles Town Classic on Researcher in 2009.
In addition to War Story, Navarro will be represented by 2018 Zia Park Derby winner Nanoosh, narrowly beaten by 1 1/4 lengths in the $350,000 Essex Handicap at Oaklawn in his last start. Saturday will mark Nanoosh’s first start for Navarro as he moves over from the barn of Robertino Diodoro.
“I’ve only had him for about a month, but I like what I’ve seen from him. I just hope he runs how he works, because he works like he’s a good horse. I think he has a little more speed than War Story, so I think he’ll be pretty close early.”
Trainer Todd Pletcher sends out the Grade 1 placed Rally Cry for owner Paul Pompa Jr. in hopes of landing his second victory in the Charles Town Classic. Pletcher previously saddled Stanford to a win in 2016.
Off since a fourth-place finish in the Woodward (G1) at Saratoga, the $250,000 purchase as a two-year-old in training has always hinted at some ability and shows running lines that include an allowance win over multiple Grade 1 winner Diversify and an 8 3/4 length romp in the Alydar Stakes at Saratoga. Accordingly, his trainer has shown little reluctance to put Rally Cry in some of the division’s biggest races against some of the division’s best.
“Rally Cry has always impressed us with his physical presence and training,” said Pletcher. “We feel like he will run well off the bench and think he will handle the track.”
Rally Cry will have the services of Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez in the Charles Town Classic.
Last seen finishing eighth in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), Trin-Brook Stables’ Discreet Lover kept some lofty company last year and notched his signature win in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup over the likes of two-time Dubai World Cup champ Thunder Snow. Off since November, the son of Repent was on track to make his debut in the Excelsior (G3) at Aqueduct on April 6 before being scratched the morning of the race. Still, his connections don’t appear to be concerned about how a layoff will impact Discreet Lover come Saturday.
“We’re excited because he’s doing everything right,” said trainer Uriah St. Lewis. “He’s a smart horse. He trains himself, really. All I do is just guide him. We breezed him after we scratched from the race in New York and he worked really well, so we think he’s back with a real chance to win this year.”
As St. Lewis alluded to, this will mark the six-year-old’s second go in the Charles Town Classic with last year’s effort resulting in a sixth place finish.
“In last year’s race, he was closer than he wanted to be. We knew Diversify was the horse to beat, so we tried to keep him close, but he doesn’t like that. He wants to drop back and make one run. We tried the same thing in the Woodward and it didn’t work that time either. But like you saw in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, I told Manny [Franco] to just let him drop back and come running late, and that’s what he did. Everyone had given up on the horse except me and my family. And he made us so proud.”
Charles Town based Christian Hiraldo will ride Discreet Lover for the first time on Saturday.
The wild card could come in the form of California invader Mongolian Groom, who checked in third in his most recent start, the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) just two weeks ago.
Trained by Enebish Ganbat, Mongolian Groom bounced from dirt to turf and back to dirt as a three-year-old while finding little success in the process. However, the light may have gone on with the son of Hightail in his second start as a four-year-old when he beat a solid allowance field at Santa Anita that included Grade 1 placed Solomini among others and was then beaten less than four lengths by two of the handicap division’s best in Gift Box and McKinzie in the Big Cap.
Mongolian Groom’s run in the Big Cap was all his connections needed to see to not only ship their horse across the country, but also pay the $25,000 supplemental nomination fee needed to run on Saturday. Mongolian Groom will be Ganbat’s second ever starter at Charles Town having saddled eventual Breeders Cup Turf Sprint (G1) winner Mongolian Saturday to a runner-up performance in the 2013 Researcher Stakes.
Giovanni Franco has the call on Mongolian Groom who breaks from the rail.
In four of his first five starts where he crossed the finish line, Diamond King found the winners’ circle four times, with the lone blemish being a third place effort behind Strike Power and Gotta Go in the Swale (G3) at Gulfstream. Following a victory in the Federico Tesio, the John Servis trainee wouldn’t leave graded stakes company the remainder of a three-year-old season that ended with a tough luck third in the Oklahoma Derby (G3). After nearly six months on the sidelines, Diamond King reemerged with an impressive win in a Gulfstream allowance race in March.
Servis, who was born and raised in Charles Town, likes not only how the son of Quality Road has come back this year, but how he shouldn’t be compromised from a tactical standpoint.
“He’s matured quite a bit physically and mentally. But he’s still not a real big horse, so I don’t think he’ll have any trouble at all around three turns. Plus he’s got that tactical speed, so he shouldn’t have to pass many horses when it’s time to start running.”
Javier Castellano, the most successful rider in the Charles Town Classic’s history with three victories has the call aboard Diamond King.
As far as horses go, the local hopes reside with the star West Virginia bred Runnin’toluvya who comes into the Charles Town Classic on an eight race winning streak with two of those wins coming over the 9 furlong route he’ll face on Saturday.
“After he ran a mile and an eighth in the [West Virginia Breeders’] Classic and the A Huevo, we thought he answered the distance question really well against West Virginia-breds,” said Tim Grams, Runnin’toluvya’s Charles Town based conditioner. “We kept him in light training after that knowing that this race could be a possibility.”
Known to be a handful come race time, Grams think it’s possible the gelded son of Fiber Sonde has turned the corner with some of his antics.
“He seems to have come back a little bit more relaxed this year. In his prep race, he warmed up good with me on the pony beside him and he stayed relaxed the whole time. And he just ran a really professional race.”
Oscar Flores, aboard Runnin’toluvya for each of his 11 career wins, has the mount once again on Saturday.
Defending champion Something Awesome is one of three entrants for trainer Jose Corrales as he attempts to duplicate Researcher’s feat of winning the race back to back in 2009 and 2010. Since Researcher’s win 9 years ago, Duke of Mischief (2012), Caixa Eletronica (2013), Game on Dude (2014), Imperative (2015) and Stanford (2017) have all tried and failed in their attempt to win the Charles Town Classic in consecutive years.
Unlike 2018 when he came to West Virginia in top form having captured both the General George (G3) and Harrison Johnson Memorial at Laurel, the Stronach Stables homebred hasn’t had as much success since his biggest career win. Sent off as one of the longest shots on the board in the Pegasus World Cup in January, Something Awesome checked in tenth, beaten nearly 30 lengths and followed that up with a five-length defeat as he tried to defend his General George title.
Edgar Prado, aboard Something Awesome in the 2018 Charles Town Classic has been named to ride the Awesome Again gelding once again.
Corrales also has multiple stakes winner Unbridled Juan who has been never worse than third in 7 career tries at 1 1/8 miles and Bobby G entered for Saturday, the latter of which did not draw into the body of the race and would need at least one defection to have the opportunity to run.
However, Something Awesome isn’t the only past Charles Town Classic winner to come into the race with some recent rough outings as two-time race winner Imperative looks to end a winless streak that dates all the way back to the 2017 Charles Town Classic. Best known for upsetting the heavily favored Game on Dude in the 2014 Charles Town Classic, Imperative was soundly beaten in an allowance race and the Pegasus at Gulfstream as well as a starter allowance at Oaklawn.
Jacob Radosevich will ride Imperative for owner Ron Paolucci Racing LLC and Imaginary Stables and trainer Anthony Quartarolo.
Post time for the Charles Town Classic is set for 5:37pm EST. and the race can be seen on TVG, Fox Sports 2 and heard on the Horse Racing Radio Network. The Classic will be the penultimate race in a $100,000 Guaranteed All-Stakes Pick 4 that commences in race 9 and is also a part of the Charles Town 6-12 sequence. The Charles Town 6-12 – a Pick 6 with a low 12% takeout – sports a mandatory payout of the carryover on Classic day with a total of $158,062 in the carryover going into the track’s Wednesday night card.