Runnin’toluvya favored in rugged Confucius Say
Runnin’toluvya outfought Diamond King to win the 2019 G2 Charles Town Classic. Photo by Allison Janezic.
Friday night, the 2019 co-West Virgnia-bred Horse of the Year, Anna’s Bandit, galloped to an easy win in the $50,000 Original Gold Stakes.
Can Runnin’toluvya — the horse she tied for the state’s top honors — follow suit? He’s the 7-5 favorite in Saturday’s $50,000 Confucius Say, a seven-furlong test for older West Virginia-breds.
Oddly enough, three of his rivals are from the same barn. Trainer Jeff Runco will saddle Opera Nite, Penguin Power and North Atlantic. But the marquee name on the abbreviated list of entries is Runnin’toluvya, who is on the cusp of being the next state-bred millionaire; a win here would put him over the top.
A six-year-old Fiber Sonde gelding trained by Tim Grams, Runnin’toluyva experienced a roller coaster season in 2019, opening the year with a victory in the Grade 2, $1 million Charles Town Classic but later ending it with a near-disastrous last-place performance as the odds-on favorite in the West Virginia Breeders Classic in which he reared up in the gate, broke through the front of the stall and suffered a cut on his left stifle.
After a break last winter, Runnin’toluvya returned to the races fresh and fit and won his seasonal debut on March 21, overhauling favored Penguin Power in the final sixteenth to win by two lengths. That race was on the final card before the hiatus resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak, and the Grams trainee is now poised for his first stakes outing of the season.
“He’s doing really good,” Grams said. “He has breezed a couple of times since that last start and I took him to the gate the other morning. He acts like he’s ready to go.”
Grams acknowledges that the Confucius Say field, while short, is talented.
“Jeff has three good ones in there, and I know his horses will be ready,” he said. “That other one [V.I.P. Ticket] looks like a nice horse, too. There are only five horses in there, but they all can run. “
Runco said that his trio, Penguin Power, Opera Nite and North Atlantic, are all heading into the Confucius Say in good order. Penguin Power, last year’s champion WV-bred sprinter, was second to Runnin’toluvya in his seasonal debut, while Opera Nite, second in last year’s West Virginia Breeders Classic, is making his seasonal debut off a series of solid workouts. North Atlantic, who has finished in the top three in the last three runnings of the WVBC Classic, had won once in three starts this year before the hiatus.
“They’re all three doing really good,” Runco said. “Its a compact field and anything can happen in a short field. I think Tim’s horse is definitely the horse to beat. That other horse [V.I.P. Ticket] is also a nice horse. I think all three of mine are training good coming into it. We’re just hoping tor a fast track and a clean trip for all three of them, but in a short field you never know how the race will play out. Anything can happen.”
Penguin Power has won 10 of 13 career outings and earned nearly $215,000 and is the 8-5 second choice on the morning line. Opera Nite sports a solid 7-7-1 slate and nearly $220,000 banked from 19 career tries and North Atlantic sports a commendable 16-14-9 slate and almost $565,000 bankroll from 44 lifetime tries.
Maryland invader V.I.P. Ticket (4-1), a Maryland-bred son of Windsor Castle trained by Jeremiah O’Dwyer, was fourth in his seasonal debut at Laurel in March. He is no stranger to Charles Town, having won three times in five starts over the strip. He owns a 4-2-5 slate and over $125,000 banked from 17 career outings overall.
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