Russell Road shows form in Gall Memorial

For the third consecutive weekend, Charles Town hosted another stakes prep for the upcoming West Virginia Breeders Classics night and then on Sunday afternoon it was the two-year-olds who were on full display in a trio of maiden special weight events.

Saturday night the track offered the latest edition of the $50,000 Frank Gall Memorial Stakes for state-bred older horses and several of the best were on hand for their first prep for the upcoming $500,000 West Virginia Classic on Breeders Classics night, October 20. Three of the horses expected for the Classic tuned up in fine fashion in the Gall.

Russell Road readied for WV Breeders night with a win in the Gall Memorial.

As expected, Russell Road was made the solid 3-5 favorite in the Frank Gall and the defending West Virginia Classic champ does not appear to have lost much zip in his aging legs. Son of a Bear was the solid 2-1 second choice and Black Belt, who makes his presence known each fall locally, was the 3-1 third choice in the field of five older runners.

Soon after the gate opened in the Frank Gall, Russell Road displayed more speed than usual and the Wheaton gelding dueled inside of Son of a Bear for command through the first turn and down the backside through modest fractions of 24 and 48 flat. Despite the change in tactics, Russell Road still had plenty left in reserve and he edged clear late to a four-length score in 1:25.64 for the seven furlongs.

A six-year-old Wheaton gelding trained by James W. Casey for owner Mark Russell, Russell Road notched his third win in four starts this year and earned roughly $100,000. In 36 starts in his career, Russell Road has posted 22 wins and earned roughly $1.25 million in his illustrious career. He looks poised to successfully defend his title in the West Virginia Classic this fall.

One race earlier on the card, Sir Rayford overcame post 10 and rallied from well off the pace to post a 12-1 upset in the second half of the split allowance for West Virginia-bred three-year-olds and upward. Sir Rayford notched his first win in three starts this year for trainer Ollie Figgins, III, and owner Hi Rock Stable by covering the seven furlongs in 1:29.02.

Several races earlier on the card in the first half of the split allowance for state-bred runners, Osprey rallied from well off the pace to notch his second straight score. A sophomore son of Ghostly Thunder trained by Rodney Jenkins, Osprey bided his time through the early stages then overhauled the leaders with a wide bid to prevail in 1:28.39 for his second victory from six starts, pushing his seasonal earnings past $40,000.

In a split maiden special weight event for state-bred two-year-old colts on Sunday both Saturdaynightfight and In The Fairway recorded impressive victories in almost identical clockings and both flattered the most impressive local juvenile winner of the current century.

Saturdaynightfight rallied from just off the pace to win Sunday’s one-turn opener for state-bred freshmen in 52.01 for owner-trainer Crystal Pickett – one of her three winners on the card – and several races later In The Fairway rebounded from a disappointing effort in his career debut to score by five lengths in 51.89 for trainer Jeff Runco. Both appear on target for the $50,000 Henry Mercer Stakes here on September 22 where they will be reaquainted with one another and one other budding star.

Both Saturdaynightfight and In The Fairway had been thumped in their career debuts here back on July 22 by Hidden Canyon, who splashed over the wet-fast surface that afternoon to win by nearly 10 lengths at first asking by covering the one-turn distance in 50.89. Granted the surface was extremely fast that weekend despite the rains, but such clockings are often difficult for two-year-olds to attain at any time let alone in their career debut.

Hidden Canyon not only won at first asking in eye-opening fashion, his running time was nearly two seconds faster than the one posted in winning the other half of the split maiden special weight affair that day. His stellar performance was then flattered exponentially by both Saturdaynightfight and In The Fairway, who both rebounded from double-digit length drubbings to post sharp scores in their most recent outings on Sunday afternoon to signify their readiness for a rematch.

In fact, soon after Hidden Canyon prevailed in his career debut longtime fans began to ponder exactly where his effort ranked among the best juvenile debuts in track history and he quickly joined a very short list. Perhaps the only one comparable in recent memory was the June 8, 1991 debut of Coin Collector, who went on to win six stakes including consecutive editions of the West Virginia Classic for trainer James M. Casey and owner John Casey.

While it may be undoubtedly far too early to compare Hidden Canyon with Coin Collector or even more talented state-breds such as Soul of the Matter, Afternoon Deelites and A Huevo – all of which were Grade I winners – his eye-opening triumph in his career debut last month and the subsequent victories by two colts that he trounced at least has his connections and many local fans thinking that they have already witnessed the unveiling of a budding superstar and will pay very close attention to his future outings.

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