While the first two runnings of the Charles Town Classic may have offered a serious local flavor with Researcher winning for then-trainer Jeff Runco and last year’s edition marked the first time the race or any race at the historic oval had ever been graded, last Saturday night’s fourth running of the $1 million Charles Town Classic marked the first time the race had ever carried Grade II status.
Each year there are roughly 120 Grade I races throughout the United States and nearly twice as many Grade II races, but those events are still few and far between. Charles Town went over 75 years before being awarded a Graded race of any kind and this year’s edition of the Grade II Charles Town Classic meant the race has already reached upper echelon status. It may not get elevated to a Grade I event anytime soon, but the simple fact that the race is now a Grade II affair still seems remarkable.
Once again the feature race on a card that offered nearly $2 million in total purses – a figure that dwarfed the purse account for the entire year before slots arrived – the Charles Town Classic took center stage among the large gathering and was highlighted by live coverage of the Television Games Network, whose racing analysts Simon Bray and Tom Cassidy were on hand and asked to sign autographs by local fans afterward.
While the race did not offer a serious local flavor and the three horses—Game On Dude, Acclamation and Tizway—who were on hand for the 2011 edition and were the top three finalists for the Eclipse Award for champion older male last year—were elsewhere, the race did attract defending champion Duke of Mischief. While Game On Dude, Acclamation and Tizway each earned Grade I victories after competing in last year’s Classic, Duke of Mischief had gone winless in six starts since then and was overlooked at 12-1 in his return outing as the defending champ.
Tackleberry, a multiple Graded stakes winner who settled for fourth in last year’s talent-rich edition of the Classic, was the 9-5 favorite while California invader Uh Oh Bango was the second choice and 2011 Kentucky Derby and Preakness participant Pants On Fire was the third choice. But for the fourth straight year the Classic produced an upset, although defending champion Duke of Mischief perhaps delivered an effort worthy of victory.
Through the early stages of the nine-furlong affair, Pants On Fire and Skipshot vied for early command and Tres Borrachos raced three-wide to prompt that pair. As he had done last year, Duke of Mischief bided his time through the first half-mile then launched a serious three-wide bid down the backside to gain command and only Caixa Electronica could stay with him.
Duke of Mischief swept to command on the far turn, but Caixa Electronica followed his every move and then took dead aim on the defending Classic champion turning for home. Duke of Mischief was under serious urging in the final furlong, but Caixa Electronica, considered by many a one-turn specialist and perhaps one of trainer Todd Pletcher’s second stringers, responded to the commands of jockey Javier Castellano and drew clear late to a two-length score in 1:50.28. His winning clocking was solid, but roughly one-half second above the track record set by Researcher.
Caixa Electronica posted his second win in four starts this year and pushed his seasonal earnings past $650,000. He now owns a 17-7-11 slate and $1.1 million bankroll from 52 lifetime starts. Castellano took a private plane from Keeneland to Martinsburg and made it in plenty of time for the race, but neither Pletcher or owner Mike Repole were on hand. Duke of Mischief was game in defeat under jockey Joe Bravo while suffering his sixth straight defeat since taking last year’s Classic.