Runnin’toluvya outfought Diamond King to win the 2019 G2 Charles Town Classic. Photo by Allison Janezic.

When Runnin’toluvya captured the 2019 edition of the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic last April, trainer Tim Grams and his talented trainee vaulted to local legend status.

The 16 months since then, however, have not been smooth sailing for the defending Classic champion. Next week he will head into the latest renewal of the Classic, scaled back to $600,000, with even more questions to answer than those posed to him the year before.

A glimpse at his running lines shows the rocky road that Runnin’toluvya has traveled. Most notable was his disastrous West Virginia Breeders Classic when he suffered a cut on his left stifle when acting up at the gate, showed speed early, and then backed through the field.

After a perhaps much-needed vacation, Runnin’toluvya returned to his winning ways on March 21, the last night of live racing prior to the COVID-19 shutdown. But in his only subsequent start the Grams trainee offered very little and was fifth and last as the 4-5 favorite in the $50,000 Confucius Say Stakes.

His latest workouts give the local conditioner a glimpse of hope heading into next Friday. Runnin’toluvya worked five furlongs in 1:00.40 August 18, a move that Grams said would be his last before the Classic.

“He’s doing really good,” Grams said of Runnin’toluvya, who boasts 14 wins and nearly $973,403 banked in 22 career outings. “He worked really good the other day. I worked him with another horse to give him some one to push him. He hasn’t raced in three months. There just haven’t been any spots for him. But we’re going to drop him in for the Classic and hope that he runs the way he’s capable of running.”

Runnin’toluvya won the 2019 edition of the Charles Town Classic during a 10-race win streak that included a handful of stakes scores. But since his memorable triumph in the Classic last spring, Runnin’toluvya has only won a pair of allowance races and finished second once, fifth twice and 10th once in four stakes outings.

He was a nondescript fifth in the $50,000 Confucius Say Stakes over the strip in May, his most recent outing. He has worked four times since, getting four furlongs in 50.70 on June 22, 48.80 on July 25 then 48 flat on August 7 before turning in his latest five-furlong move.

“Each work has been a little better than the previous one,” Grams said. “He’s getting fitter with each work. I wanted to push him a little bit the other morning when he went five furlongs in a minute [and two-fifths].”

Runnin’toluvya will have a couple of questions to answer in the Classic. One will be his puzzling recent inconsistency. The other: he hasn’t raced since May 30.

“He just had not had a place to run,” Grams said. “It’s been like that for some of my other horses. A lot of the races, even at other tracks, just aren’t filling like they used to. But he’s getting good again and we’re going in the Classic.”

Runnin’toluvya is 12-1 on the morning line in a wide-open field that figures to feature a full gate. There are 10 in the main body of the race, plus one on the also-eligible list.

Math Wizard is the tepid morning line favorite at 3-1. Trained by Saffie Joseph, Math Wizard was hero of last year’s Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby and second recently in the Grade 3 Monmouth Cup

Also among the notable invaders looking to upend Runnin’toluvya this summer is War Story, who will be making his fourth appearance in the Grade 2 affair. War Story, an eight-year-old gelding now trained by Elizabeth Dobles, has not raced since running third in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park in January. He has been second once and third twice in three previous Charles Town Classic outings, and he was also third in the Grade 3 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Park in his only other visit to the Mountain State. He owns an 8-7-6 slate and over $3.25 million banked from 39 career tries, highlighted by a victory in the Grade II Brooklyn Handicap in 2017.

“I hear there are going to be some good ones in there this year,” Grams said. “I definitely think the race is going to come up tougher than last year. When I looked over the noms, I saw a lot of Graded stakes winners and horses that compete in Grade 1 races. We’ll see who else drops in on Tuesday. When they put up that type of money [$600,000] they’re usually not giving it away.”

The lineup also includes Mr. Money (6-1), won who four straight Grade 3 events last year capped by a score in the West Virginia Derby, and Plus Que Parfait (15-1), who owns only two wins from 14 career outings but sports a $1.7 million bankroll thanks to his score in the UAE Derby at Meydan Race Course 17 months ago. Six-year-old Multiplier, who will be in search of his first win from eight outings this year, was most recently fourth in the Grade II Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs and earlier second in the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap. He won the 2017 Grade 3 Illinois Derby. Five-year-old Tenfold, winless since his score in last year’s Grade 3 Pimlico Special, is 5-1 on the morning line for trainer Steve Asmussen.