Charles Town handle per race hit a record high in 2020

Charles Town handle per race hit a record high in 2020
Photo: Ryan Lasek/Eclipse Sportswire

Charles Town concluded its live racing season Saturday night with an all-sources handle approaching $2 million, and despite an atypical year that saw multiple temporary closures because of the coronavirus pandemic, the track was able to once again establish a new annual record for wagering volume per race — the sixth consecutive year it has done so.

The $231,518 bet per race at Charles Town in 2020 easily ran past the previous record high of $156,311 set in 2019 by more than 48 percent while handle per starter jumped more than 43 percent.

“2020 was obviously challenging for everyone, but the job our whole team did in helping us not only return from a shutdown earlier in the year but allowing us to achieve business volumes for racing that are unprecedented in our history has been remarkable,” said Vice President of Racing and Sports Operations Erich Zimny. “We’re also grateful for our fans and horseplayers who continue to support our product, our industry partners that have been critical to our success and the Charles Town HBPA which was very cooperative in a year that was as challenging for the local horsemen anyone.”

When a temporary shutdown of live racing forced the April cancellation of Charles Town’s marquee event — the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic — 2020 saw another first as both of Charles Town’s graded stakes were run on the same card for the first time.

Rescheduled for the last weekend in August, local hero Runnin’toluvya tried to defend his title in the Classic, having become the first West Virginia-bred to win the contest just a year earlier. The popular gelding by West Virginia stallion Fiber Sonde finished a credible third but nobody in the field of 10 older horses was catching the eventual winner as Thumbs Up Racing’s Sleepy Eyes Todd powered home to a 7 1/2-length triumph over longshot runner-up Plus Que Parfait. Trained by Miguel Silva and ridden by local rider Carlos Delgado, Sleepy Eyes Todd has since come back to win the Lafayette at Keeneland on the Breeders’ Cup undercard and the Mr. Prospector (G3) at Gulfstream Park this past weekend. 

The 2020 Charles Town Oaks (G3) saw a front-running 9.10-to-1 upset by Joseph Besecker’s Fly on Angel who held off Grade 1 winner Wicked Whisper by a diminishing half-length on the wire under jockey Fredy Peltroche. In winning the Charles Town Oaks, Peltroche joined Javier Castellano as one of only two riders to have captured multiple graded stakes at Charles Town having won the Oaks two years prior aboard West Virginia-bred Late Night Pow Wow.

The $5,603,606 wagered on the 2020 Charles Town Classic card fell about $100,000 short of the mark for the largest single-card handle in track history, established in 2019.

West Virginia Breeders’ Classics XXXIV took place on Oct. 10 and the late running Awsome Faith notched a 37-to-1 surprise in the featured $150,000 West Virginia Breeders’ Classic besting fellow longshot Buff’s Eye View by a half-length. In the richest race for fillies and mares on the Breeders’ Classics card, odds-on favorite Bridging the Gap controlled the field from the start, drawing off to a 6 1/4 length score.

The $3,371,681 bet on the West Virginia Breeders’ Classics XXXIV program established a new record for the event.

For the third time in his career, Arnaldo Bocachica topped the annual jockey standing at Charles Town in both wins and earnings. Winning at a 30 percent rate in 2020, Bocachica’s 160 winners from 541 starts allowed him to bank $ $2,771,238 in earnings over the course of the year. Gerald Almodovar’s 75 victories were enough to claim him the runner-up spot on the list with Christian Hiraldo, Reshawn Latchman and Denis Arujo rounding out the top five.

For the fifteenth consecutive year, Jeff Runco took the top spot in the trainer standings by saddling 93 winners at Charles Town — 25 more than runner-up Ronney Brown. Charles Town’s perennial top two conditioners were well clear of Anthony Farrior, who found the winners circle at Charles Town 46 times in 2020. Runco’s 424 starters produced $ $2,114,150 in earnings, allowing him to also take the earnings title as one of only three trainers to hit the seven-figure mark in winnings, joining Brown and John McKee.

Currently, 174 live days are scheduled at Charles Town for 2021 with the track’s two graded stakes — the $800,000 Charles Town Classic (G2) and $400,000 Charles Town Oaks (G3) — both scheduled for Aug. 27. State-breds will take center stage on Oct. 9 as Charles Town will host the 35th renewal of the West Virginia Breeders’ Classics.

Charles Town’s 2021 racing season kicks off on Wednesday, Jan. 8, with post time for the first race scheduled for 7 p.m. ET.

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