A combination of talent and home-field advantage helped Researcher produce a powerful victory in the inaugural Charles Town Classic at Charles Town Races & Slots the evening of April 18. And he vanquished a few grade I winners in the process.
Owned by Herman Greenberg’s Rutledge Farm, Researcher brought the house down at his home track. With a large crowd looking on and cheering wildly as he made his move on the third of three turns, Researcher raced for $600,000, the richest open-stakes purse in the history of the West Virginia track.
The Classic offered a $1-million purse to winners of a grade I stakes in the last two years. Heavily favored Commentator, making his 2009 debut, and California shipper Mast Track raced for the top purse. Grade II winners raced for $750,000, and grade III winners $600,000.
Commentator, under John Velazquez, grabbed the early lead in the 1 1/8-mile contest and held it under pressure until the final turn. The 8-year-old Distorted Humor gelding never had raced at Charles Town, which has a three-quarter-mile track, or around three turns. He checked in fourth.
The night belonged to Researcher, who won the Classic prep at Charles Town in track-record time of 1:49.76 for 1 1/8 miles March 28. He just missed his own record in the Classic, which was timed in 1:49.86 on a fast track under Kendrick Carmouche.
Longshots Ea and Dry Martini finished second and third, respectively. Researcher sat on the rail just behind front-running Commentator before angling out on the final turn and taking over heading for home. His winning margin was 2 1/4 lengths.
“This is a big deal,” said Researcher’s trainer, Jeff Runco, who leads the standings at Charles Town. “It’s as big a deal as winning the grade III in New York. When he came back in the prep, he ran great, and he came into this race perfectly. I didn’t know he’d win, but I thought he’d be right there.
“Commentator—what can you say? He’s a super horse. But our horse got a good trip, and Kendrick rides here a lot and knows the track.”
“He just galloped around there,” Carmouche said of Researcher. “That’s what we were hoping for. He knew what to do from there.”
Greenberg said his horse had an advantage in that he trains at Charles Town and has raced around three turns, and that Commentator, winner of last year’s Whitney Handicap (gr. I) at Saratoga, may have been at a disadvantage “with all those turns” at Charles Town.
Researcher, a 5-year-old Virginia-bred gelding by Two Smart out of the Apalachee mare Wild Magnolia, paid $8.40 to win as the second choice. He’s now 10-for-17 in his career, and is seven-for-10 at Charles Town.
Runco said Researcher would "get a little breather" before his next start, which is yet to be determined. "Who would you duck from here?" Runco said.
The Classic, one of six stakes on the program, generated interest on track and at simulcast outlets. The win-place-show pool on the race topped $188,000, while the exacta and trifecta pools combined topped $252,000.
Attendance was reported at 5,911 on the racing side, but Charles Town, which has more than 4,000 slot machines, doesn't charge admission. The on-track handle was $340,355, and the total handle of $2,211,894 for the 11-race card is believed to be a record for the track.
In the $250,000 Sugar Maple Stakes for fillies and mares, 4-year-olds and up, at seven furlongs, Edward Evans’ Spritely dueled for the lead until the far turn and stormed home to win easily in 1:24.44 under Velazquez. Choragus followed the winner and just held for second over Weathered.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, Spritely won for the fifth time in 11 starts. The 4-year-old Kentucky-bred filly by Touch Gold wasn’t hampered by the outside post 10 in the two-turn event. Spritely paid $12.40 to win.
In the $100,000 Blue and Gold Stakes for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs, Charles Town-based Russell Road used a ground-saving trip from just off the pace to win by a neck in 1:24.88. Bunker Hillwas second and Ju Jitsu Jax third.
Owned by Mark Russell and trained by James Casey, Russell Road improved his Charles Town record to six wins in seven starts. The West Virginia-bred gelding by Wheaton is now a five-time stakes winner. Eric Camacho rode the winner, who paid $6.40.
Local jockey Gerald Almodovar won four races, two of them stakes, on the Charles Town Classic program.
Almodovar’s biggest victory came with Happy Hour Stable’s Trust Or Bust in the $100,000 Webb Snyder Stakes for 3-year-olds and up at 4 1/2 furlongs. Trained by Paul McClelland, Trust Or Bust (a Florida-bred by Trust N Luck) rated just off a sizzling pace and grabbed the lead near the wire to win in near track-record time of :50.93.
Almodovar also won the $55,000 Opequon Handicap with Robert Cole Jr.’s Savethebestforlass, a $33,000 allowance race with Michael Gill’s Glittery Star, and a $30,000 maiden special weight test with Kidwell Petite Stable’s Carol's Hero.