This year marks Charles Town track’s second Grade II stakes
This coming Saturday evening Charles Town will host the latest renewal of the Grade II, $1.5 million Charles Town Classic, the track’s richest and only graded event on a marathon card filled with stakes and allowance races that begin two hours earlier than normal[cleeng_content id="959563192" description="Read it now!" price="0.15" t="article"].
After saddling the beaten favorite in each of the two previous runnings of the Classic, trainer Todd Pletcher recorded his first win in the lucrative event last spring when Caixa Eletronica rallied for a sharp score when the race was run as a Grade II stakes for the first time. He would also later win the Grade II True North Handicap at Belmont Park on the Belmont Stakes undercard, perhaps validating the Classic as a solid Grade II affair.
But last fall the track opted to tweak the Classic to a certain extent, perhaps with the fervent hope that someday it attains Grade I status. Both the Classic and the West Virginia Derby for three-year-olds at Mountaineer Park are currently the state’s only two graded stakes races, but thus far neither has earned Grade I status.
This year the Charles Town Classic will offer a $1.5 million purse — up $500,000 from last year – with the winner guaranteed $1 million, up from the $900,000, or 60 percent, that would typically go to the winner. That move was no doubt designed to attract horses from across the country that have not only done well to this point in their careers but could also enhance the reputation of the Classic by winning more lucrative and prestigious races throughout the season. Those victories would, in turn, perhaps bolster the Classic to a Grade I event next spring.
Headlining this Saturday’s Charles Town Classic – the post position draw is today – is Game On Dude, the talented, six-year-old gelding trained by Bob Baffert, who finished second in the 2011 edition of the Classic. Last month, Game On Dude easily prevailed in the Grade I, $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap – his fifth Grade I victory – and will likely be the odds-on favorite in the Charles Town Classic.
Game On Dude has won his last four starts and he bypassed a possible a start in the $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 3 to stay on the continent to compete in the Charles Town Classic.
Looking to upend Game On Dude is reigning West Virginia Breeders Classic champion, Lucy’s Bob Boy, who will look to defend his home course. He has won 10 of 13 starts — all at Charles Town — and is seeking to follow in the footsteps of Researcher, the locally-based thoroughbred that won the first two editions of the “Classic”.
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott has three talented older runners as “Classic” possibilities in Cigar Street, Flat Out and Ron The Greek. Of the three, Cigar Street may be the least experienced, having won four of his six starts including the sharp score in a Grade III stakes at Gulfstream Park last out, but he is the most likely of the trio to arrive.
There are five stakes on the undercard, including a pair of West Virginia-bred races. Highlighting the races leading up to the Classic is the $200,000 Sugar Maple Stakes, preceded by the $85,000 Robert Hilton Memorial, and the $50,000 Webb Snyder Charles Town Dash. The track
will also offer the Confucius Say and the Original Gold, a pair of West Virginia-bred stakes for horses looking toward the $1.5 million West Virginia Breeders Classics here on October 19.[/cleeng_content]