TOP WVBC CONTENDERS COMING INTO FOCUS
When the dust settled after the end of the lucrative Charles Town Classic card August 31 that included a quartet of stakes races for West Virginia-breds, many of the paths to the upcoming West Virginia Breeders’ Classics night in early October began to be clear.
The evening’s finale was the $75,000 Frank Gall Memorial for state-bred older runners, and the deep, contentious event was comprised of runners who will be pointed either to the Classic at nine furlongs or to the Onion Juice at seven panels.
Of course, the top two finishers, both from the same barn, will be pointed for the main event on the WVBC card, where an identical finish would not be completely unexpected.
Trainer Jeff Runco unleashed a trio of runners in the Gall. Muad’dib, full-brother to the multiple graded winner Late Night Pow Wow, entered unbeaten in six career outings and making his stakes debut as the tepid 2-1 choice in a stellar local field. Another Runco trainee, the durable and consistent North Atlantic, had won a recent allowance event, while Penguin Power, previous hero of the Gall and the Onion Juice, was looking to regain his winning ways.
While Penguin Power would provide the early tempo, it was Muad’dib and North Atlantic who made their presence known in the lane. Muad’dib, who was steadied and appeared to clip heels briefly behind a foe entering the clubhouse turn, saved ground down the backside then angled out turning for home to overhaul one stablemate and outlast his other one, North Atlantic, for a neck score in 1:25.16.
“He passed the test,” Runco said of Muad’dib, who remained perfect in seven career outings for owner David Raim. “He showed a lot of guts today. He had a little trouble passing the finish line the first time. I thought he was going to clip heels and get taken out of it. But he recovered nicely and finished up well. He’s definitely going in the Classic and so is North Atlantic. He’s really good right now, too.”
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While Muad’dib will make his three-turn debut in the 1 1/8-mile Classic, North Atlantic will return to his reserved spot in the starting gate for the yearly feature for state-breds. An eight-year-old Ghostzapper gelding that Runco trains, North Atlantic was bred and is also owned by Jeff and Susan Runco’s Coleswood Farm. North Atlantic sports a commendable 19-18-11 slate and nearly $690,000 banked from 54 lifetime outings.
North Atlantic has made six starts on WVBC night. That includes four tries in the Classic, in which he has finished second twice and third twice.
Several races earlier on the Charles Town Classic card, Star of Night, the reigning West Virginia-bred horse of the year, wore down Bridging the Gap for a length score in the $75,000 Sadie Hawkins Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares. The race served as both a rematch of last year’s thrilling My Sister Pearl and as an early prep for the Cavada Breeders’ Classic in October.
Star of Night has won all three of her starts this year and now boasts nine wins and over $240,000 banked from 11 career outings for Runco. Regular pilot Arnaldo Bocachica did the honors.
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“I thought she ran a great race,” Runco said of Star of Night. “She didn’t really break all that well and ‘Boca’ had to use her a little early, especially the [speed-favoring] way the track is playing. She moved up outside John’s horse going into the far turn and got the better of her. John’s horse ran well. I’m sure we’ll see her again in the Cavada. Now the goal is to try and keep her happy for six weeks.”
Bridging the Gap overcame a seven-month layoff to finish a solid second for owner-trainer John McKee in an ideal setup race for the Cavada.
Bridging the Gap had been idle since winning a local allowance in January, but she arrived off a series of good workouts over the strip including a 34-second, three-furlong bullet move August 21 that was a little quick for McKee’s liking. Bridging the Gap will head into the Cavada as the defending champion of the race, and the reigning West Virginia-sired but not bred champion should benefit from her effort in the Sadie Hawkins when she meets Star of Night again in the WVBC feature for fillies and mares.
“I was really happy with her performance [in the Sadie Hawkins],” McKee said. “She had been off a long time and I thought she ran a big race. She’s been training good in the morning. I thought her last work was a little quick, but she did it on her own. I thought she ran well in the stakes on Friday. There might be another race for her on Sep. 15, an allowance for fillies and mares, but I don’t know if it will fill. If it does, she’ll be in there.”