Lucy's Bob Boy looks to defend his crown on the night of Oct. 19 as he takes his spot in a full gate of 10 horses for the $500,000 West Virginia Breeders' Classic, headline event in the West Virginia Breeders' Classics XXVII card at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races.
The 1 1/8-mile Breeders' Classic is one of nine stakes races on a card that offers nearly $1.2 million in purse money for state-breds having nominated to the West Virginia Breeders' Classics program. Lucy's Bob Boy is the 4-5 morning line favorite in the Classic, which is set as race 8 with an expected post time of 10:45 p.m. ET.
There have been very few horses as dominant at a track as Michael Furr's Lucy's Bob Boy has been at Charles Town over the past couple years, with the 4-year-old son of Flatter winning 13 of his last 14 outings over the surface with an average margin of victory of nearly six lengths. Included in those 13 triumphs is a win in last year's West Virginia Breeders' Classic where he stretched out to the three-turn configuration of Charles Town's 1 1/8-mile route for the first time and cruised by eight lengths.
Lucy's Bob Boy's trainer Sandra Dono thinks her stable star has come back with a different attitude this season that's helped him take the next step.
"We can tell that he's just a lot sharper than he was as a 3-year-old," said Dono. "His attitude has been different and he can sense when he's ready to go. With his attitude right now, you can tell he knows he's coming up to a race."
After starting his 2013 campaign with an 11-length win over allowance company in March, Lucy's Bob Boy took the seven-furlong Confucius Say in his next start before posting a pair of easy allowance scores.
At that point, Dono decided to try Lucy's Bob Boy in unrestricted stakes company for the first time and shipped him to Monmouth Park for the Salvator Mile (gr. III). But he hit the gate at the start and lost all chance. Despite the fifth-place finish up in New Jersey, the connections again tried him in unrestricted stakes company for his most recent start and he responded with a 2 1/4-length win in the Wild & Wonderful on Charles Town's Sept. 21 "Race for the Ribbon" card.
Despite a little missed training since the Wild & Wonderful, Dono likes the way her horse is coming into the race.
"He missed about a week of training after the Wild & Wonderful but he went to the track four times last week and he's been on track this week, so we're happy with him," she said.
As far as the competition on Saturday, Dono still believes Russell Road, competing in this race for the fifth time, is the top threat to Lucy's Bob Boy.
"Yeah, I think Russell Road still is the horse we have to worry about the most. Even though he lost his last race, he's still an old class horse and you've got to be worried about him every time he runs."
The 7-year-old Russell Road will seek to win the West Virginia Breeders' Classic for a third time, having taken the 2009 and 2011 editions. While he came into the race off a win in both 2009 and 2011, Russell Road's owner Mark Russell doesn't mind coming into the 2013 Breeders' Classic off a loss in last month's Harry Buch Handicap.
"You know, about seven weeks before his last start, we ran him in a sprint at Mountaineer," explained Russell. "And we knew going from the one turn there to three turns here would be tough and he'd probably be a little short for that race."
While the loss in his last start certainly wasn't by design, the gelding's campaigns have been designed for him to peak when it counts most.
"We know what the goal is for him every year and don't really start tightening the screws with him until a month or six weeks before the West Virginia Breeders' Classic," Russell said. "That's one of the keys to keeping him around as long as we have. We don't keep him cranked up all year and know we always have this spot to point to come October."
The strategy has paid off for Russell and his team. Russell Road has banked more than $1.5 million in career earnings and sits behind only Soul of the Matter on the list of highest-earning West Virginia-breds of all time.
Matt McGowan rides Russell Road, who breaks from the rail in pursuit of his third Breeders' Classic win.
Fred High, who defeated Russell Road in the Harry Buch Handicap, looms as another of the top threats, coming into the race with consecutive victories. Based in Maryland for trainer John Robb, Fred High will himself be giving it a third try in the $500,000 Breeders' Classic. He finished fourth in 2011 and sixth last year.
While Russell Road may be in pursuit of his third win in this race, David Raim's Golden Set will look to be the first horse in West Virginia Breeders' Classics history to win three different Breeders' Classics divisions in his career. As a 2-year-old, the Jeff Runco trainee won the Farm Family Insurance & Vincent Moscarelli Breeders' Classic and followed that up with a victory in West Virginia Lottery Breeders' Classic the following year. The gelding by Tapit almost secured the distinction in 2012, finishing under the wire first in the Onion Juice Breeders' Classic, only to be disqualified and placed third.
$500,000 West Virginia Breeders' Classic Stakes (Race 8, 10:45 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Trainer, ML Odds
1. Russell Road (WV), M C McGowan, J W Casey, 6/1
2. Figpenn (WV), J D Acosta, O L Figgins III, 30/1
3. Lucy's Bob Boy (WV), G Larrosa, S A Dono, 4/5
4. Son of a Bear (WV), G Almodovar, D Walters, 15/1
5. Luca's Wind Dancer (WV), E Ramirez, T C Grams, 20/1
6. Clink Clink Clink (WV), A Mawing, B M Godfrey, 15/1
7. Strawberry Cupcake (WV), A Lopez, J W Casey, 10/1
8. Fred High (WV), W Ho, J J Robb, 9/2
9. Golden Set (WV), T L Dunkelberger, J C Runco, 8/1
10. Allegheny Jack (WV), X Perez, O L Figgins III, 20/1
11. Mister Brass (WV), J D Acosta, J C Runco, 12/1
12. Sea Rescue (WV), A Bocachica, J C Runco, 30/1
All assigned 122 pounds.