With the Kentucky Derby preps now complete it is the $1,250,000 Charles Town Classic which will take center stage this weekend. Contested at nine furlongs over the short six-furlong course at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, the Grade 2 event will celebrate its ninth edition on Saturday. Looking to match the feat of the local hero of the first two runnings, a pair of former winners will look to join Researcher as the only two-time winner of the rich event. Without further ado, let's take a look at the diverse field of eight, including my analysis for each...
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2) Sunny Ridge (6-1) - The New Jersey-bred gelding has plenty going for him in search of his most lucrative win to date. Not only does he have good experience over the tight turns of a smaller track, having given Exaggerator all he wanted in the 2015 Delta Downs Jackpot, but with plenty of rain forecast over the next few days, he is likely to find an off track that he clearly enjoys. Some of his best performances have come on wet surfaces, including a pair of Grade 1 races in the Champagne and Haskell. He also should sit a favorable trip, getting first run at what looks to be a solid pace. His most recent performance, a solid win in the Stymie, just over a month ago, makes me believe that Charles Town native, Jason Servis, has him at his best for the Classic. Manny Franco will look to get him home for their fourth stakes win together. Relishes Off Going
1) Stanford (8-5) - The defending champion looks to be coming back to West Virginia in career best form. A decisive, front-running winner of this race last year, the five-year-old son of Malibu Moon has used his strong speed to rattle off three very good performances in a row down in Florda this winter following a six-month layoff. The Stonestreet millionaire will likely need to use that speed under John Velazquez, as the pair will break from the rail. With speed to his outside, and plenty of good late runners looking to pick up the pieces, this figures a race where he will need to be at his very best. Still, considering his recent form, and proven fondness for the track, he rates top billing, and was hard to keep out of the first spot. Better Form Than Ever
5) Imperative (3-1) - Another former winner of this event, the seven-year-old son of Bernardini is well proven over the trip in three previous tries. One of three entered from Loooch Racing, he will only need to show the kind of form he did two starts back, when he edged out Stanford in the Poseidon Stakes, to have big success on Saturday. An off track could prove problematic, and he will also need to bounce back from a poor performance in last month's Big Cap, but under the skillful guidance of Javier Castellano, there is good reason to believe he will once again make his presence felt as the Classic field comes spinning out of the third and final turn. Charles Town Proven
6) War Story (5-1) - Another Loooch runner, who on his best could win this, War Story looked very good winning the Queens County in December. There also certainly was nothing wrong with his fifth-place result in the $12 million Pegasus Cup behind Arrogate, but most recently, he looked a bit dull when fifth in the Fred W. Hooper. He has been put in plenty of tough spots in his career, so you have to wonder if that will eventually catch up with him. If he can bounce back off the Hooper, he has shown that an off track is right up his alley. Threat on Best
4) Matt King Coal (8-1) - This is a colt that I've long believed to have plenty of talent, and he's never run a bad race in eight lifetime starts. Still the question remains -- how good is the son of Cool Coal Man? In his only previous test against this kind of competition, the speedy four-year-old ran a competitive fourth in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial on a muddy track last spring. Patiently handled after a layoff following the Wood, he looks to be coming into this spot in strong form. Certainly a threat, I would give him an even better chance if the pace looked to be a little lighter. Acid Test #2
7) Bodhisattva (15-1) - Every once in a while this one uncorks a strong late run. Two starts back, he blew by Page McKenney in the Campbell Handicap at Laurel. I'm not sure that he is good enough in here, nor do I know if this will be a day he decides to run his best, but with an expected fast pace, he should be given at least a chance to rally up into the exotics. Late Running Longshot
8) Cautious Giant (20-1) - This one actually has plenty of quality sprint form in his past performances, and against good horses. Granted, he did not win any of those stakes races, but his good speed is proven. With that in mind, I believe he will be the Loooch runner used early to pressure Stanford and Matt King Coal in hopes of setting up his stablemates. Sets Down Strong Pace
3) Gangster (10-1) - The Doug O'Neill charge faded badly last time in the Big Cap, but before that he had run several competitive races against decent competition in Southern California on both turf and dirt. Having said that, he has never proven himself against this type of class, and in his only previous wet track experience, he looked none too happy. Not For Me