Graded this year for the first time, the Charles Town Classic has attracted a field of 10 outstanding runners, every one of them a graded stakes winner. The last non-Breeders’ Cup race in the United States that had 10 or more starters that were all graded stakes winners going into the gate was the 2006 Arlington Million.
“In two calendar years, the Charles Town Classic went from never having been run to a graded stakes race where the entire gate is filled with graded stakes winners,” said Erich Zimny, Charles Town’s Director of Racing Operations. “Making it a prominent race in the handicap division so quickly is a remarkable accomplishment by our entire staff.”
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert admits he is entering unchartered waters by running his rising star Game On Dude in the Charles Town Classic.
From the wide-open expanses of Santa Anita Park to the tight turns of Charles Town’s six-furlong course, Baffert is unsure how Game On Dude will respond to having to negotiate a three-turn race. For a $1 million jackpot prize, however, he is more than interested in finding out.
“I sent my horse up there, and I told my jockey (David Flores) to put two marbles in his mouth, and to spit a marble out every time he crosses the finish line to remind himself there’s another lap to go around,” Baffert said, tongue planted firmly in cheek.
Baffert has enlisted veteran David Flores, one of the top riders at the Fairplex Park meet in Southern California, to ride Game On Dude.
“He’s a tremendous bullring rider,” Baffert said. He worked him for me here and got to know him a little bit.”
Game On Dude, who also won the Lone Star Derby (G3) as a 3-year-old, galloped over the Charles Town track on Wednesday in preparation for the race.
He will have his hands full with the competition. Phipps Stable’s Gone Astray returns for a second try in the Charles Town Classic. He finished seventh last year after clipping heals on the first turn. Two races later, he defeated Duke of Mischief, another Classic entrant, by five lengths to win the Salvatore Mile (G3) at Monmouth and by year’s end had gone past the million-dollar mark in lifetime earnings.
“I know that Game On Dude’s in there, but we’ll try to get him started,” said trainer Shug McGaughey. “I think he’s a lot better around two turns than one. Last year, we never got a chance.”
Both Game On Dude and Gone Astray, as well as Awesome Gem, local star No Advantage, Inherit the Gold and Duke of Mischief like to come from off the pace in the late stages of a race, but there is no shortage of brilliant speed signed on for the Charles Town Classic.
Tackleberry, owned and trained by Luis Olivares, turned into a racing sensation this past winter in Florida and has won eight of his past 10 starts, all on or near the lead. In his past three races, Tackleberry has won the Sunshine Millions Classic, the Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship (G2) and the Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2) at three different distances.
Olivares said he was pointing for the Classic even before Tackleberry won the Gulfstream Park Handicap on March 12.
“He’s been adapting to anything I put him on,” Olivares said. “I don’t think he’ll have a problem. I’ve had some nice horses before, but he is very nice. He’s a fighter. He goes seven-eighths, he goes a mile, any distance, and he’s still fighting at the end.”
Tackleberry will have plenty company up front with the Todd Pletcher-trained Rule and James Bond’s Tizway in the gate.
Rule, a 4-year-old son of Roman Ruler, has experience on short courses, having won the Delta Jackpot (G3) as a 2-year-old at Delta Downs.
“His success at Delta Downs and the circumference of the racetrack suits him well,” said Pletcher. “He’s got the ability to handle turns well.”
Rule was sixth to Tackleberry in the Gulfstream Park Handicap. Tizway lost the same race, his first start of the year, by a neck, finishing third.
Bond was thrilled with the performance and decided to try the Classic.
“I’m keeping my fingers crossed,” the New York-based trainer said. “He has a history of handling the turns very well. I always wondered if he had distance limitations, and (jockey) Rajiv (Maragh) said, ‘No way.’ He just gives more and shifts gears. I’m very lucky to have him in the barn. I think he’s the best he has ever been.”
Another California shipper is Acclamation, for trainer Donald Warren. The 5-year-old son of Unusual Heat won the Charles Wittingham (G1) going 1¼ miles on the turf last year, but he also ran second on the 5-furlong Fairplex track in a stakes race in 2009.
That race, 13 starts back, was his last on a dirt track, but Warren is confident Acclamation is ready for a big effort in the Classic.
“He’s an excellent bullring horse,” Warren said. “He has fair speed and will be up close early, which is usually a good thing in a bullring. It’s a very good field, I’ll tell you, but he’s got a good chance. He won a Grade 1 last year and won a Grade 2, and nobody even touched him in those two races. I have respect for the horses that ran in the Santa Anita Handicap, but for some reason I don’t feel afraid to run against them. I think my horse is as good as they are.”
The field is rounded out by Duke of Mischief, who won two graded stakes last year including the Oaklawn Park Handicap (G2); Inherit the Gold, the top handicap runner in New York this winter and a winner of five straight starts; and No Advantage, who has yet to miss a start in the Charles Town Classic and recently won the General George Handicap (G2) at seven furlongs at Laurel Park.
$1,000,000 Charles Town Classic (G3)
April 16, 2011
Race 10 – Post time 10:30pm EST
4&up, 1 1/8 miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. No Advantage, Manual Chaves, 120, Stephanie S. Beattie
2. Tackleberry, Javier Santiago, 120, Luis Olivares
3. Tizway, Rajiv Maragh, 114, H. James Bond
4. Acclamation, Christian Santiago Reyes, 114, Donald Warren
5. Rule, John Velasquez, 114, Todd A. Pletcher
6. Inherit the Gold, Eddie Castro, 120, James Hooper
7. Gone Astray, Cornelio Velasquez, 114, Claude R. McGaughey, III
8. Duke of Mischief, Joe Bravo, 114, David Fawkes
9. Awesome Gem, Travis Dunkelberger, 114, Craig Dollase
10. Game on Dude, David R. Flores, 123, Bob Baffert
11(AE) – Quindici Man, Martin Pedroza, 114, Craig A. Lewis
12(AE) – Schoolyard Dreams, Kendrick Carmouche, 114, Derek S. Ryan
13(AE) – Researcher, J.D. Acosta, 114, Neil R. Morris
14(AE) – Icabad Crane, Alan Garcia, 118, H. Graham Motion
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