This Saturday, the fourth running of the Grade II, $1 million Charles Town Classic awaits older handicap horses. The nine-furlong event has quickly developed into one of the premier races on the East Coast due to its enhanced purse and the absence of the famed Pimlico Special.
Last year marked the first time Charles Town had ever offered a Graded stakes race and its strength immediately helped to elevate this year’s edition from a Grade III to a Grade II event.
More than 50 horses have been nominated. The quality of this year’s Classic field will undoubtedly be worthy of a $1 million, Grade II event.
Duke of Mischief will look to become the next runner to successfully defend his title. Awesome Gem has already competed in the Classic twice, running second in 2010 and then fourth one year ago and the nine-year-old trained by Craig Dollase is accustomed to traveling.
Ron The Greek won the latest renewal of the Santa Anita Handicap last month and could be headed back East for his first attempt at the Classic. Trained by Hall of Fame conditioner Bill Mott, Ron The Greek sports a solid 6-3-1 slate and $770,000 bankroll in 17 career outings.
Like Mott, trainer Richard Mandella has enjoyed a Hall of Fame career and could send Santa Anita Handicap runner-up Setsuko for the Classic. Setsuko has developed a reputation of a talented bridesmaid.
Wise Dan is one of the better hit-or-miss horses. In eight starts last year, he posted four victories but failed to hit the board in each of his other four starts. He concluded his 2011 campaign with three straight victories, including a sharp score in the Grade I, Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs.
Maybe the best older horse in training on the East Coast right now is Nates Mineshaft, who has won all three of his starts this year, including a triumph in the Grade II New Orleans Handicap. Nehro, who kicked off his current campaign with a sharp allowance score for trainer Steve Asmussen, earned nearly $1 million a year ago at age three.
Another potential runner, Hymn Book, kicked off his current campaign with a nose victory in the Grade II, $500,000 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park. Other possible runners are Prayer For Relief, the 2011 West Virginia Derby winner, and Maryland-based runners Eighttofasttocatch and Norman Asbjornson. Eighttofasttocatch won last year’s Maryland Million Classic. Norman Abjornson competed in several major stakes last year at age three for Bowie-based conditioner Chris Grove.
The Charles Town Classic is part of a superb 13-race card that will get underway more than two hours earlier than normal at 5 p.m. It will be supported by a pair of $250,000 stakes — the Robert R. Hilton Memorial and the Sugar Maple.