With the Triple Crown boys taking a bit of a break, the opulent Charles Town Classic is spotlighted Saturday at the West Virginia track.
This is the biggest day of the season at Charles Town. Besides the Charles Town Classic, the venue will offer five $50,000 stakes, an $85,000 stakes and a $100,000 added-money event.
The $50,000 stakes include the Russell Road, the Confucius Say, the Original Gold, the Coin Collector and the It’s Binn Too Long. The $85,000 Robert Hilton Memorial will go at seven furlongs and the $100,000 Sugar Maple Stakes is for older fillies and mares at seven furlongs.
The Charles Town Classic is a Grade 2 event carded at nine furlongs. The purse is $1.2 million and it has drawn some stars. The track itself is only 6 furlongs so agile horses that can negotiate the turns can do well at this track.
Eight runners have entered and they will be trying to defeat Stanford, who is the defending Charles Town Classic champion. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Stanford is one smart cookie. He has won six of his eleven career starts and ran second five times. Stanford’s style makes him the master of his own destiny. He has valid speed but he doesn’t need the lead to win. He won the Long Branch Stakes back in the day relaxing off the lead. After his Charles Town Classic win last year, Stanford was beaten in the Met Mile by Frosted, who clicked right back after that win to take the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes.
Pletcher changed things last time adding the blinkers and he explains why, Pletcher: “The main objective with putting the blinkers on was keeping him focused throughout the race. Sometimes it can be difficult to make an equipment change on a horse you’ve had so much success with, but it had been in the back of my mind to try it with him.”
Stanford responded winning his last with the blinkers with a 102 Beyer.
Imperative will be starting in his fourth Charles Town Classic and hopes to duplicate his 2014 effort, when he pulled off a shocker at 26-1. Imperative is trained by Bob Hess Jr., who learned at the foot of his father in Northern California. In his three starts in the Charles Town Classic, Imperative has banked $1,342,50. Imperative also beat Stanford to kick off 2017 and he has been second to stars like California Chrome and Dortmund.
Sunny Ridge, trained by 27% conditioner Jason Servis, will be trying to turn the hat track Saturday. This veteran has positional speed but he might be an Aqueduct specialist. Three of his five career wins have been on the inner strip there. The gelding is Grade 1 placed in his career and fans are probably looking at about 6 or 8-1 if he is the ticket.
Gangster could very well be bringing a knife to a gun fight. The Doug O’Neill student graduated at nine furlongs but he had his head handed to him on a platter last time in the Santa Anita Handicap. That race was won by Shaman Ghost, who ran second to Arrogate in the Pegasus World Cup.
Matt King Coal has done nothing unforgettable in his career. Sure, he has won half of his eight starts and he has valid speed but he has been pushed of late. He is unbeaten in two starts this year but he was totally expended in the last win. He has won at this distance, but it was only by a head and it was against a much softer field.
War Story has some semblance of speed but it’s hard to see him making the lead in this race. He has posted a pair of regressions since closing out 2016 with a win at Aqueduct. The son of Northern Afleet has not raced since March 4 but he won off the vacation last July in a romp against a softer field.
Bodhisattva is a vehicle for the Buddism fans out there. This runner lost his only start at Charles Town. It was an easier spot and he did catch the slop that day. The concern about Bodhisattva is that he has zero speed. He has a tendency to give up 15 or 20 lengths to his rivals early and that is a tough way to approach this game. Those that like Bodhisattva have to project a hot and heavy pace and for the leaders to fade into the sunset.
Cautious Giant has shrunk his responsibility when asked to perform against top racers. He only won once last year and that came by the slimmest of margins against optional claimers. He has failed to run better than third in his last seven attempts in stakes company.
When trying to unravel any puzzle like a horse race, the first thing to look for is the pace of the race. That is the best starting point because everything else will evolve from the way the horses are placed in the early stages.
In the Charles Town Classic, there is plenty of speed. Stanford, since he drew the rail, is pretty much committed to showing his velocity and figures to be sent along by the Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez. Matt King Coal is trained by Linda Rice, who is one of the best trainers on the East Coast and has hit at 32% this year. Matt King Coal has made the lead in all four of his wins and he seems to be one dimensional. Cautious Giant has sneaky zip and could fall into a solid three-hole trip.
The call goes to Stanford. He has posted three solid drills since his last race. He is two for three in his last several races and the loss was by a mere head. He has posted triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures in five of his last six races and if he brings his A game, the others better have their running shoes on.
Anything close to a repeat of his 104 winning Beyer in the Charles Town Classic last year will likely be good enough for another success story.
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