(Charles Town, WV) - Even though Duke of Mischief won the Oaklawn Handicap (G2) last year, trainer David Fawkes decided to skip a shot at a repeat and run the 5-year-old son of Graeme Hall instead this year in the Grade 3, $1 million Charles Town Classic.
Fawkes knew that Bob Baffert was sending his dangerous Misremembered to the race in Arkansas and figured maybe he could catch some softer competition in West Virginia.
No such luck.
“We were ducking Misremembered, and it might not have mattered because he got beat anyway,” Fawkes said of the Oaklawn Park race, in which Win Willy beat Misremembered by a length. “This race (the Charles Town Classic) looked like it might suit him a little better and it’s a million dollars and it’s $350,000 over there.”
Duke of Mischief is a millionaire runner with three graded stakes wins under his belt. The problem, however, is all 10 of the runners lining up Saturday night for the big race have won graded stakes, the first time this has happened in a field of 10 more in a race outside of the Breeders’ Cup since the 2006 Arlington Million.
Also, there was no avoiding Baffert, who sent Santa Anita Handicap (G1) winner Game On Dude east for the Charles Town Classic.
“It’s a great field,” Fawkes said. “I think it’s very evenly matched. Nobody looks like a standout.”
Asked how his horse will adapt to running a short course — the Charles Town oval is just six furlongs — for the first time, Fawkes did not hesitate.
“I’m 90 percent sure he’ll bullring,” he said. “How do I figure that? I started at Sportsman’s Park (a now-demolished seven-furlong track in Chicago) in 1976, and there was no tighter bullring in the country than that. You know if a horse can bullring. This horse likes turns, that’s where he accelerates.”
Joe Bravo will have the mount on Duke of Mischief.
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Last November, Pennsylvania-based trainer Cathal Lynch took a brave and risky chance and ran his speedy young Diski Dance in a $12,500 maiden claiming race at PARX. Lynch won the race, escaped losing his horse at the claim box that day and went on a three-race winning streak.
Now, the gelded son of Songandaprayer rates a good shot to win the $100,000 Blue & Gold for 3-year-olds on Saturday night at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races.
Lynch knew he had a fast horse, when he dropped Diski Dance in for the cheap claiming price. “We’ve won quite a few races that way, and the owner (Matthew Hand) is a big boy and not afraid to play the game aggressively. They have a lot of starter allowance races in Philadelphia that he now becomes eligible for. Sometimes you get caught, but when you get away with it you look like a genius.”
Now, Lynch believes he can toggle between running in rich stakes like the Blue & Gold and starter allowances. With the defection of likely favorite Bandbox from the race because of a minor injury, Lynch believes he has a stronger shot to win now. His colt finished second in the Dancing Count Stakes on Jan. 29 at Laurel Park and followed that up with another second in the Fred Capossela Stakes on March 5 at Aqueduct.
Diski Dancer stands nearly 16.3 hands tall, yet Lynch believes he will have little trouble handling the tight turns at Charles Town in the seven-furlong race.
“He’s trained like a horse that has no problem,” Lynch said. “He’s gone around two turns an awful lot in his work schedule. Some of the bigger horses can handle the turns quite well. He’s handled everything we’ve thrown at him.”
Kendrick Carmouche has the mount.
Diski Dance drew the No. 5 post in the seven-horse field, which pleased Lynch because his horse now gets to sit outside the likely pacesetter and favorite, Rush Now.
“That didn’t hurt, and it’s a seven-horse field,” Lynch said. “It’s hard to believe he hasn’t won a stakes yet, but he sure as hell tries.”
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Showers are possible in the forecast for Saturday around Charles Town, and at least one trainer, Don Warren, wouldn’t mind an off track for the Grade 3, $1 million Charles Town Classic. His entry, California-based Grade 1 winner Acclamation has never competed on a wet track — in fact, he has not even run on dirt in his past 13 starts — but Warren believes it would be an advantage in a hugely competitive race where any edge is hard to come by.
“I know this horse well enough that I know he likes the mud,” Warren said of the son of top California sire Unusual Heat. “I’ve trained him enough in the mud when it rains out here, and he’s bred to love it, besides.”
To prepare for the six-furlong course at Charles Town, Warren galloped and worked Acclamation on the training track at Santa Anita Park. His final breeze came Tuesday — five furlongs in 1:02.1.
“We worked on the training track, which has tighter turns and is three-quarters of a mile around there, just to get him used to going around the turns again,” Warren said. “I use the training track for him a lot. It’s a heavy, sandy track, but it does have tight turns.”
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Trainer Chris Grove, who cross-entered his multiple stakes winner Sweet Goodbye in the $250,000 TVG Sugar Maple on Saturday night and the $75,000 Primonetta Stakes the same day at Pimlico, said Thursday that owner William Harris had committed to the Charles Town race. Sweet Goodbye, a 6-year-old daughter of Louis Quatorze, has won five of six lifetime starts at Charles Town and will be the likely favorite in the field of 10.
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