Star of Night headlines CT stakes action

One former champion will return to action Saturday at Charles Town Races, while another didn’t quite make it in time but will be back soon.

This Saturday night Charles Town will host its first two stakes of the season when it presents both the $75,000 Confucius Say for West Virginia-breds and the $75,000 Original Gold for state-bred distaffers, and trainer Jeff Runco will likely have something to say in both of them.

Six months after he saddled seven of the nine winners on the lucrative West Virginia Breeders’ Classics card, Runco will send out WVBC victors Star of Night in the Original Gold Stakes and Penguin Power in the Confucius Say. Both are solid favorites.

Star of Night will arrive off a series of solid workouts as the two-time defending West Virginia-bred horse of the year. Last year’s heroine of the WVBC Cavada hasn’t raced since the Nov. 13 My Sister Pearl and will look to continue her winning ways as the 1-5 morning line favorite in the Original Gold to kick off her five-year-old season.

“She’s been working well and she’s coming into the race right on schedule for her seasonal debut,” Runco said of Star of Night. “She’s been training very well since we brought her back in March and she really hasn’t missed a beat. She’s always done well here and I expect her to run her race on Saturday night and do what she’s always done here.”

Star of Night has won nine straight races and boasts 11 wins and just over $365,000 banked from 13 career outings for owner-breeder Heinz Steinmann’s Huntertown Farm. She arrives showing five works since the beginning of March in preparation for this seven-furlong affair.

Star of Night is one of two distaffers that Runco will saddle in the Original Gold along with the consistent and durable seven-year-old mare See Ya Manana, who also is a Huntertown Farm homebred. See Ya Manana boasts a solid 11-7-4 slate and just over $300,000 banked from 32 career tries. While Star of Night is riding a nine-race win streak that includes six stakes tallies, See Ya Manana is still looking for her first stakes triumph.

Door Buster, last year’s champion West Virginia-bred three-year-old filly, has won a pair of allowance events in three tries this year for trainer Ollie Figgins, III of Dance to Bristol fame and is looking for her fourth stakes victory. Door Buster, listed at 8-1 on the morning line, won both the Sylvia Bishop Memorial and the West Virginia Tourism Office BC last fall before finishing third behind Star of Night in the nine-furlong My Sister Pearl Stakes.

Two other state-breds looking to topple Star of Night this weekend are Azzurra (6-1) and Boundtobebad (15-1), who arrive from opposite directions. Azzurra, trained by Anthony Farrior for Timothy Freitag, has won her last two outings, three of her last four starts and 11 times overall, but she is still in search of her first stakes tally. Boundtobebad, the champion West Virginia-bred two-year-old filly in 2020, has been second three times in four winless starts this year and has been second 12 times in her 28-race career, but the John Casey owned- and trained filly recorded a pair of stakes victories as a juvenile.

While the Original Gold may appear to be a walkover on paper given the presence of reigning West Virginia-bred horse of the year Star of Night, the Confucius Say looks far more contentious although Penguin Power, hero of the WVBC Onion Juice last fall for Runco, is listed as the 7-5 morning line choice. Penguin Power has been second and fifth, respectively, in a pair of open stakes at Laurel Park since taking the Onion Juice and looms the solid favorite despite drawing outside in the eight-hole.

Trainer Tim Grams was hoping to saddle his talented, temperamental star Runnin’toluvya for his belated return to the races following an 18-month break. That won’t happen because, well, horse racing, but he will be represented instead by Onion Juice runner-up Fancy Concho.

“Everything had to go perfect for him to make it to the race,” Grams said of Runnin’toluvya, a millionaire who won the 2019 edition of the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic. “Since he had been off so long, the rule up here is he had to work for the vet, get blood drawn then wait for the test results. He worked for the vet and had blood drawn and the results came back okay, but they came back Thursday, so I missed the Wednesday entry time.”

Still, entering the homebred Fancy Concho is a pretty nice consolation prize. The five-year-old Fiber Sonde gelding has won seven of 20 career starts.

“I think it will all work out for the best,” Grams said. “Fancy Concho is doing really good. That’s a tough field, but if he runs his race, I think he could be second or third in there.”

Owner-breeder-trainer John McKee will send out a pair of homebreds, No Change (9-2) and Command the Cat (6-1). No Change has won all three of his starts this year and eight of 18 overall, while Command the Cat boasts one seasonal score and nine victories in 32 career tries.

“No Change is coming into it really good,” McKee said. “I think he’s doing a little better than Command the Cat right now. Both of them have been a handful at the barn, and I expect they’ll both run well Saturday night.”

No Change was second by a neck in last fall’s West Virginia Lottery Breeders’ Classic and is as formful as can be. After snapping a three-race losing streak early in his career, he has finished in the trifecta in 13 consecutive races.

“He’s been really good each start this year,” McKee said. “There were a couple of races I wasn’t sure he could win, but he surprised me and beat some good horses. I hope he runs well again this weekend, and I suspect he will.”

While onlookers are accustomed to seeing local runners trained by Runco, Grams and McKee reach the winners circle in state-bred stakes, trainer William Earl Atkins is hoping his razor-sharp homebred Fiber and Emily (10-1) can upset the apple cart. Fiber and Emily has won both of his starts this year and three straight overall. Both the Fiber Sonde gelding and his owner-breeder-trainer will seek to notch their first stakes victory on Saturday night.

“He’s doing really good,” Atkins said. “This race came up tough, but my horse is doing better than ever. I think he can make the lead and they’ll have to catch him. It’s going to be a great race. There are a lot of good ones in there, but my horse is coming into the race really good, so I’m hoping he runs his race and is able to fight them off late.”