The $1,000,000 Charles Town Classic (G2) will take place on Saturday, April 20, 2019 at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races
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 add the race to his resume, 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."
|J C Servis
||J R Velazquez
|T A Pletcher
|A T Quartarolo
|U St. Lewis
||E S Prado
|T C Grams
||J D Acosta
||BOBBY G (AE)
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 3-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.
Headlined by eleven runners trained by Todd Pletcher and five from the Bob Baffert barn, a total of 75 horses have found their way into the nominations for the $1,000,000 Charles Town Classic to be run over the Charles Town oval on April 20. The Grade 2, 1 1/8-mile race anchors a 13 race program at Charles Town that kicks off with a special 12:30 P.M. start time.
Pletcher, who won the 2016 Charles Town Classic with Stanford, equaled his nomination total from 2018 with the most noteworthy being 2018 Louisiana Derby (G2) winner Noble Indy and 2018 Wood Memorial (G2) victor Vino Rosso.
Much like his East Coast rival, Baffert would be seeking his second victory in West Virginia's richest race, having taken the 2013 edition with Game on Dude, to go along with the popular gelding's runner-up efforts in 2011 and 2014.
The Hall of Fame trainer is represented by multiple Grade 1 winner McKinzie, as well as Dabster, 2018 Californian (G2) winner Dr. Dorr, recent allowance winner Nero and Grade 1-placed Solomini.
Outside of McKinzie and 2019 Dubai World Cup starter Seeking the Soul, the other Grade 1 winner in the Charles Town Classic nominations is Discreet Lover, best known for his 45.50-to-1 upset in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup over two-time Dubai World Cup champion Thunder Snow. Off since the 2018 Breeders' Cup Classic (G1), the now six-year-old owned and trained by Uriah St. Lewis shows a series of works at Parx as he readies for his 2019 debut.
A pair of past champions also appear in the nominations in the form of defending champ Something Awesome, beaten five lengths in his most recent title defense in the General George (G3) at Laurel and Imperative, who won the race in 2014 and again in 2017. Imperative is one of seven nominees for trainer Anthony Quartarolo, all of which are owned in whole or in part by Ron Paolucci, while Something Awesome will attempt to match Researcher's feat of winning the Charles Town Classic in consecutive years.
The list of graded stakes winners appearing in the Charles Town Classic nominations also includes, among others, Beach View; Copper Bullet; recent New Orleans Handicap (G2) winner Core Beliefs and 2017 San Antonio (G2) champ Giant Expectations, both from the barn of Peter Eurton; Flameaway; Gift Box; Lone Sailor; and 2017 Brooklyn Handicap (G2) victor War Story, who checked in third and second respectively in the last two runnings of the Charles Town Classic.
Nominations for three additional unrestricted stakes all run at 7 furlongs - the $100,000 Dance to Bristol for fillies and mares four and up, the $100,000 Robert Hilton Memorial for three-year-olds, and $75,000 Russell Road for three-year-olds and up - close this Saturday, April 6.
About the Charles Town Classic
After only ten runnings, the Charles Town Classic has already established itself as a prominent early season stop for the best handicap horses in training. As of January 2017, the 61 different horses to start in the Charles Town Classic had combined for 116 graded stakes wins - 30 of which were Grade I's.
The fields assembled have proved popular with fans as well, as the Charles Town Classic cards run to date have produced the eight largest handles in track history, with a high of $4,847,106 in 2015.
On April 16, 2011, the Grade 3 Charles Town Classic became the first graded stakes race held at Charles Town in the track's 77-year history. The newly minted grade helped produce one of the year's strongest races as the 2011 Charles Town Classic was the first non-Breeders' Cup race in the United States to have 10 or more starters, 100% of which were graded stakes winners going into the gate since the 2006 Arlington Million. While Duke of Mischief came home the winner, the race produced the three finalists for the older male Eclipse Award in Acclamation, Game on Dude and Tizway.
Following the 2011 running, the Charles Town Classic received an upgrade to Grade 2 status for 2012 and again produced a field of 10, comprised entirely of graded stakes winners. Caixa Eletronica denied Duke of Mischief a repeat and gave trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey Javier Castellano their first wins in the Charles Town Classic.
On April 20, 2013, the Charles Town Classic and its $1,500,000 purse jumped into rarified air as it joined the 2001 Haskell as the richest thoroughbred race contested in U.S. racing history outside of the Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup World Championships. Ultimately, Game on Dude was able to avenge his defeat in the 2011 Charles Town Classic as the popular gelding bested Clubhouse Ride and multiple Grade 1 winner Ron the Greek by a half-length in the closest finish in the race's history. The all-sources handle of $4,398,985 smashed the previous record for a single card in track history, set in 2012.
Game on Dude was back to defend his title in the 2014 Charles Town Classic and shipped to West Virginia fresh off becoming the first horse to ever win the prestigious Santa Anita Handicap for a third time. Lying in wait for the defending champ was a familiar foe in Clubhouse Ride, eventual Whitney Handicap (G1) winner Moreno and local star Lucy's Bob Boy. However, it was a 26-to-1 outsider who pulled off the major upset as Imperative, ridden by Kent Desormeaux, swept past Game on Dude on the far turn and became the longest shot to ever win the Charles Town Classic.
2015 saw Shared Belief, the top-rated horse in the world as per the Longines World's Best Racehorse rankings, make his first-ever trip outside of California to contest the Charles Town Classic against the likes of Moreno, Vyjack and defending champ Imperative. However, Shared Belief would be pulled up on the clubhouse turn and Moreno powered home to victory in track record time with Imperative rallying for second. The card shattered all single-day wagering records at Charles Town with $4,847,106 bet in total, including an incredible $2,423,332 bet on the Classic itself.
In 2016, a front-running Stanford would give Pletcher and Castellano their second victory in the Charles Town Classic as the son of Malibu Moon coasted on the lead to a two-length score over the popular Mid-Atlantic star Page McKenney.
In 2017, Castellano would win his third Charles Town Classic while he piloted 2014 champ Imperative to his second victory in West Virginia's richest horse race.