CHARLES TOWN – In the trio of open stakes races leading up to the Charles Town Classic, much of the speculation was that each of them would be captured by a prohibitive favorite with two of them being sent out by the same conditioner.
But favorites had a difficult evening last Saturday, evidenced by Imperative’s 26-1 stunning upset over Game On Dude in the Classic. The trio of open stakes prior to the Classic produced a pair of upsets, but none as shocking as the nine-furlong feature race itself.
In the race just prior to the Classic, the seven-furlong, $200,000 Sugar Maple Stakes for fillies and mares, Quiet Success was made the 3-5 favorite although her credentials were somewhat limited. She had won both of her prior starts this year against allowance foes at two different tracks in Louisiana and she had been no better than third in restricted stakes company.
Maryland invader More Than a Cruise was a solid 3-1 second choice for trainer Larry Murray as the homebred daughter of More Than Ready had won the $100,000 Conniver Stakes last month at Laurel Park. Flattering Bea, a winner three times in four previous tries at Charles Town, was the 5-1 third choice for trainer Crystal Pickett and owner-breeder James Arrison.
When the gates opened in the Sugar Maple Stakes, the race that launched Dance to Bristol to a stellar 4-year-old campaign in 2013, that included a trio of graded stakes victories in New York topped by the Grade I, $500,000 Ballerina Stakes at Saratoga, longshot Wardelle broke alertly along the rail to gain command while Flattering Bea broke well to prompt the pace. Quiet Success was away a step slow and was in tight quarters while running fourth entering the clubhouse turn.
Wardell led the field through the first turn and down the backside, but Flattering Bea loomed a serious threat just off her flank and Quiet Success found running room while angling off the fence. More Than a Cruise was nearly 10 lengths back after the opening quarter mile and appeared to be struggling over the surface, but she soon found her best stride.
Flattering Bea surged to command entering the far turn, but Quiet Success loomed just off of her and then More Than a Cruise made her presence known when she belatedly found her best stride. Those three mares would settle the outcome through the lane, but Flattering Bea proved resilient and she would not allow Quiet Success or More Than a Cruise to go by her in the lane and prevailed in 1:26 flat.
Flattering Bea recorded her first win in three starts this year and now owns a solid 5-4-0 slate and nearly $300,000 banked from 14 lifetime tries for Pickett and Arrison. Flattering Bea has now won four of her five starts over the track – it was the local debuts for both Quiet Success and More Than a Cruise – and next she will try the Skipat Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on Black-Eyed Susan Day, the day prior to the Preakness.
“In some of those other races she had been so far behind early, she never really got running until it was too late,” said trainer Crystal Pickett, who held the winning plaque in one hand and wiped the tears from her eyes with the other. “She was 15 lengths back in the Miss Preakness Stakes at Pimlico last year and she got beat just a nose. She’s shown speed in the past and last week she worked a fast half-mile at Pimlico and that probably helped sharpen her up for this race.”
One race earlier on the card, however, another Tom Amoss trainee, Rise Up, delivered on his promise as the odds-on choice in the $100,000 Robert R. Hilton Memorial for 3-year-old colts.
Although he is among the colts nominated to the Triple Crown, Rise Up perhaps will be best suited for the one-turn stakes races this spring and summer. He did, however, earn the distinction of posting the most impressive victory on the card.
When the gate opened in the Robert Hilton Memorial, Rise Up broke well and rider Leandro Gonsalves, who had worked the horse in the mornings at Churchill Downs but never ridden him in a race, sent the Rockport Harbor colt through along the inside to gain command through the first turn. Before the half-mile mark the race was basically over.
Rise Up, the hero of last year’s $1 million Grade 3 Delta Jackpot at Delta Downs, widened his advantage as he uncorked splits of 22.4, 46.1 and 1:11.2 for the first three calls and then romped home 11 lengths clear in 1:25 flat for the seven panels. It was his first win in three starts this year, but his fifth victory in eight career outings with career earnings of roughly $875,000 for owners Paul and Andrea Van Doren.
“[Going to the front] was the instruction from Tom [Amoss] – break and try to get the lead,” Gonsalves said. “He broke good, but it took a while to get to the lead, and then he relaxed. I worked this horse a lot of times [at Churchill Downs]; this is the first time I got a chance to ride him.”
Three races earlier, much of the attention for the $50,000 Webb Snyder Charles Town Dash focused on the ageless gelding, Immortal Eyes, who has thrived in one-turn stakes races over the strip in recent years for trainer Damon Dilodovico and the late Robert Abbo, who passed away two days later.
A 9-year-old Greatness gelding, Immortal Eyes has been getting better with age in recent years. Last year, at age 8, he won 6 of 10 starts and earned more than $425,000, capped by a seven-length victory in the $350,000 Frank DeFrancis Memorial Dash, a race that once carried Grade 1 status and had launched four previous winners to an Eclipse Award as champion sprinter.
Immortal Eyes headed into the Charles Town Dash having won 11 of his previous 13 starts at Charles Town, including editions of the Webb Snyder and Charles Town Dash – for years different races – and he established the track record of 50.09 for the one-turn dash distance three years earlier while taking the Webb Snyder on the Charles Town Classic undercard.
When the gate opened in this year’s edition of the Webb Snyder, Immortal Eyes broke well but Uncle Todd darted from gate in rapid fashion to gain a clear lead before reaching the opener in 21.3 and he widened his advantage to four lengths through the far turn. Immortal Eyes raced from well off the pace on the far turn and looked to rally but could do no better than second as the 2-5 choice.
Three months after being claimed by his current connections for $8,000, Uncle Todd notched the biggest victory of his career as he cruised home five lengths clear in 51.21 for the 4 1/2-furlongs. It was the second win in five starts this year for the Jump Start gelding trained by Kevin Patterson for owner Robert Cole, Jr. whose talented runner Outcashem had captured the Charles Town Dash twice.