Classic stunner

Longshot Imperative upsets defending champ Game on Dude

CHARLES TOWN – On an ideal night for racing in the Eastern Panhandle, Charles Town hosted its richest, most prestigious card of the year when it offered the $1.5 million Grade 2 Charles Town Classic.

While the Charles Town Classic boasts a lucrative purse and has been a Grade 2 event for the past two years, the race has not always drawn deep, competitive fields. Saturday night many expected defending champion Game On Dude, a sharp recent winner of the Santa Anita Handicap, to depart with the $1 million winner’s share of the pot for a second straight year for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert and Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith.

Imperative (No. 7) and jockey Kent Desormeaux win the $1.5 million Grade 2 Charles Town Classic on Saturday night at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races. Defending champion Game on Dude (No. 3) and jockey Mike Smith finished second, beaten by one and a half lengths, followed by Moreno in third.

Imperative (No. 7) and jockey Kent Desormeaux win the $1.5 million Grade 2 Charles Town Classic on Saturday night at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races. Defending champion Game on Dude (No. 3) and jockey Mike Smith finished second, beaten by one and a half lengths, followed by Moreno in third.

But while Game On Dude had scared off much of his opposition on the East Coast, perhaps it seemed telling that a trio of horses would join him on the cross-country trip from California. Clubhouse Ride, the runner-up in this event a year ago; Moreno, who was making his seasonal debut; and Imperative, who had already run against Game On Dude twice this year in graded stakes at Santa Anita, were all on hand.

Although three horses headed East to try and upend the “Dude”, New York invader Long River was made the solid 3-1 second choice for trainer Kieran McLaughlin. Long River had shown plenty of improvement over the last three months and seemed to be peaking at the right time. Two of his four career victories had come over the inner track at Aqueduct, a similar surface to Charles Town.

While Long River might have been familiar with smaller ovals, no horse in the field had more experience over the track than Lucy’s Bob Boy. The 5-year-old Flatter gelding trained by Sandra Dono had won his seasonal debut handily and had captured 17 of 21 starts over the local strip. But his two lone tries against open stakes company had not gone well, so his class would get a serious test on his home track.

When the gates opened in the sixth running of the Charles Town Classic, Moreno, Game On Dude and Lucy’s Bob Boy all broke well to vie for command heading into the first turn, with Long River tucked just behind them on the rail. Moreno and Game On Dude dueled by the opener in 23 flat and by the half in 46.4, at which point Long River opted to improve position along fence while Lucy’s Bob Boy began to drop back.

Game On Dude wrested command from Moreno down the backside before reaching the three-quarter mark in 1:11.3, with Long River advancing to sit just outside of him. Moreno and Clubhouse Ride appeared to be going evenly, but Imperative advanced quickly while three-wide and loomed a serious threat nearing the quarter pole.

Midway on the far turn, Game On Dude still owned a short lead but longshot Imperative looked to have him measured. As Mike Smith went to work on Game On Dude, jockey Kent Desormeaux still had not set Imperative down for the stretch drive. But when he asked him briefly, Imperative responded and drew clear to a length and a half victory at 26-1 in 1:50.56 for the nine furlongs, no threat to the stakes or track record.

Game on Dude finished a length and a half in front of Moreno in third. Clubhouse Ride finished another two lengths back in fourth. Long River, Ruler of Love and Lucy’s Bob Boy completed the order of finish.

A 4-year-old Bernardini gelding trained by George Papapadromou for owner KM Racing [Kenji Morinaga], Imperative notched his first win in five starts this year and now owns a 3-4-1 slate and $1.1 million bankroll from 15 career outings. His connections claimed Imperative for $50,000 last December at Hollywood Park and now Imperative is a graded stakes winner and millionaire.

“When we claimed him we thought there were a few things we could change that could help him,” Papapadromou said. “He had shown a lot of speed in some races but in others he settled back too much. We thought about trying him on the dirt and when we did that he ran a big race in the San Antonio. We finished second that day and Game On Dude was fifth. He bounced a little bit in the Santa Anita Handicap, but he came back today.”

Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux had begun his career nearly 30 years ago at the smaller tracks in Louisiana, but would later thrive at the Maryland tracks and set a single season win mark with 589 victories in 1988. He would later win the Kentucky Derby twice, but his career seemed to taper off dramatically in the latest decade.

Desormeaux climbed aboard Imperative for the first time in the San Antonio and guided the gelding to a solid second-place finish, but then the horse simply failed to fire in the Santa Anita Handicap. On Saturday night, however, Imperative rebounded with the best effort of his career to date, one that validated Desormeaux’s belief in the son of Bernardini.

“He ran a big race for me in the San Antonio,” Desormeaux said. “He really battled the whole way and just got beat. I thought he was really nice. He bounced a little in the Santa Anita Handicap. They went the mile in 1:32 and this horse didn’t run a step. But today I had a lot of horse. When I finally called on him he really took off. He’s right up with the best older horses in the country right now.”

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