Favored Russell Road won the West Virginia Breeders' Classic for the second time in his career Oct. 15, sweeping past pacesetter Plantation coming into the stretch and holding steady for a two-length victory in the $450,000 event at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races (VIDEO).
With Luis Perez aboard, the 5-year-old son of Wheaton became racing's newest millionaire with the victory over nine other West Virginia-bred horses on a rich night of racing at Charles Town. The track offered purses totaling about $1.3 million for nine races.
A race earlier, 4-5 favorite Silver Heart captured the $225,000 West Virginia Jefferson Security Bank Cavada Breeders' Classic for fillies and mares.
Russell Road won the WV Breeders' Classic as a 3-year-old in 2009 by eight lengths but finished fourth in the race last year. He picked up his fourth win in seven starts this season for owner Mark E. Russell and trainer James Casey. Russell Road, the 6-5 choice, completed the 1 1/8-mile test around three turns on the Charles Town "bull ring" in 1:53.61. He earned $225,000 for the win.
“What a thrill it is to win this a second time after last year’s letdown," Russell said. "We’ve worked so hard with this horse and I feel so good for everyone involved.”
Robert H. Lloyd bred Russell Road, who is out of the Verification mare Roberta Grump. The prolific West Virginia broodmare suffered a bout of colic two weeks ago and died, Lloyd said.
"She made it through post-op but just couldn’t overcome everything," Lloyd said. "She battled like she always did. I have no regrets at all. I only remember the good times with her and it was a great ride.“
Perez had Russell Road in a stalking position on the outside early as Plantation, hustled out of the gate by Travis Dunkelberger, staked the lead over Peaceful Bliss, Black Belt, and Son of a Bear while stepping quarter-mile fractions of :23.51, :47.16, and 1:13.16.
Plantation began to edge away from his pace rivals on the final turn but Russell Road progressed nicely on the front-runner's outside to poke his head in front as they exited the bend. Russell Road opened up a sizable advantage in the lane and, under right-handed urging from Perez, had more than enough to hold off the runner-up Black Belt, ridden by Ronald Allen Jr.
“I wasn’t as close early on as I wanted to be," Perez said. "I saw Travis and his horse (Plantation) ahead and knew he stopped in his last race and I thought he might stop again. I got him going six-wide because I know that’s where he likes to be. I asked him and he picked it up. I looked back and didn’t see anyone coming, so I eased up on him.”
Black Belt finished a neck in front of Plantation, who held on for third by three parts of a length over the late-closing Fred High.
Russell Road improved his career mark to 19-4-4 in 31 races with earnings of $1,144,624. He began the year with back-to-back stakes wins at Charles Town but then lost three in a row before bouncing back with a two-length prep win in a Charles Town allowance at 1 1/16 miles Sept. 17.
The winner paid $4.40, $3, and $2.60. Second choice Black Belt, whose two-race win streak for trainer Gerald Bennett ended, returned $5.20 and $3.80. The exacta was worth $20.20. Plantation, from the Rodney Jenkins barn, paid $4 to show.
Fred High was followed by defending WV Breeders' Classic winner Sea Rescue, Lively Reparations, Green Spring Boy, Son of a Bear, Ghostly Thunder, and Peaceful Bliss.
Six-year-old Silver Heart gave owner/breeder Nancy L. Terhune and trainer Gary Capuano their second win in a row in the Cavada Breeders' Classic. She followed her full sister Aspenglow, who won last year's race with Silver Heart third. The winning gray/roan mare is by Lion Hearted out of the Holy Bull mare Holy Princess.
Dunkelberger was the winning pilot, rallying Silver Heart from far back in the 10-horse field to sneak through between horses to reach contention. Silver Heart got the lead in deep stretch en route to a one-length victory over 21-1 Stowe White. Natures Annuity finished third. The final time for the seven furlongs was 1:27.74.
Second choice Down Town Allen set the pace (:23.27, :47.38, 1:13.95) before fading to sixth in the final furlong.
Silver Heart, who paid $3.60 for the win, improved to 11-5-4 in 27 races with earnings of $401,612. Coming off a second-place finish in the Maryland Million Distaff Handicap by a head at Laurel Oct. 1, she picked up her third win in five starts this year.