A full field of 10 state-bred geldings, including past race winners Sea Rescue, Russell Road, and Ghostly Thunder, are set for the featured $500,000 West Virginia Breeders’ Classic, the highlight of a nine-race series on the night of Oct. 15 at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races.
The WV Breeders’ Classic, for horses 3 and up, will be run at Charles Town’s three-turn 1 1/8-mile distance. The race follows the $250,000 West Virginia Jefferson Security Bank Cavada Breeders' Classic for fillies and mares at seven furlongs. Seven other restricted stakes, each worth $85,000, brings the total in purses offered to $1,345,000 for the 25th year of the West Virginia Breeders' Classics event.
First post is 7:15 p.m. (all times Eastern), with the main event scheduled for 10:45 p.m. The WV Classic is to be shown live on Comcast Mid-Atlantic, HRTV, and TVG.
Leading Charles Town trainer Jeff Runco sends out Coleswood Farm’s 5-year-old Sea Rescue in an effort to defend his title in the WV Breeders’ Classic. The son of Brahms comes into the race off a win against optional claiming allowance company Sept. 21.
While he won’t be the same 57-to-1 he was while pulling the biggest upset in the history of the race last year, Sea Rescue has had difficulty finding the winner's circle following the richest score of his career. Sea Rescue had gone winless in six starts since the 2010 Breeders’ Classic. However, his recent victory at 6 1/2 furlongs, and the manner in which he’s been training has Runco optimistic that Sea Rescue could repeat.
“He’s probably coming into the race better than he did last year,” said the trainer, who also bred and owns the dark bay. “He ran a bang-up race winning his last start and did it at a distance that isn’t his best.”
J.D. Acosta will ride Sea Rescue for the first time and breaks from post 4.
The most familiar name in the field, Mark Russell’s 5-year-old Russell Road, may have signified a return to form with a two-length win in a Sept. 17 allowance at Charles Town.
While not off the board in any of his six starts this year, Russell Road hadn’t resembled the same horse that ran roughshod over state-bred competition as a 3-year-old, when he was a perfect 5-for-5 against restricted company. The clean slate included an eight-length romp in the 2009 West Virginia Breeders’ Classic. Following consecutive stakes wins to start his 2011 campaign, the son of Wheaton dropped three straight before winning his most recent start for trainer James Casey.
“Russell definitely showed a vast improvement (in his last start),” said owner Russell. “We were just sort of going along, hobby-horsing with him. After the Frank Gall (in which Russell Road finished third), we started training him a little harder than we had been and he’s responded. He ran great, he’s training great. He’s even eating a little better.”
Finishing first or second in the $500,000 West Virginia Breeders’ Classic would also make Russell Road, a lifetime earner of $919,624, racing’s newest millionaire. Luis Perez rides Russell Road, who breaks from post 7.
The final returning West Virginia Breeders’ Classic winner is 2008 victor Ghostly Thunder, who needs to turn back the clock in his fourth try in the race. Ghostly Thunder, with more than $550,000 in career earnings, has just one victory in his last 12 starts, that coming for a $8,000 claiming tag earlier this year. Claimed for $10,000 July 9, Ghostly Thunder will make his second start for new trainer Dewayne Johnson.
Taking advantage of a new rule allowing supplemental nominations for the West Virginia Breeders’ Classics, owners Nellie Mae Cox and Ellen Charles plunked down $50,000 to get their 4-year-old Plantation into the race. Trained by Rodney Jenkins, Plantation comes off a third-place finish behind Russell Road in his last start.
“After his last race, Ellen Charles bought half the horse, and her and Miss Cox decided to put up the money to run,” Jenkins said.
After a third-place finish behind Comedero in the 2010 Blue & Gold at Charles Town, Plantation was sent to the sidelines for more than a year with a shin issue.
“He cracked his shin in the race and we gave him some time off," Jenkins said. "We brought him back and I just didn’t feel like he was right, so we gave him more time. It turned out to be the right decision.”
Travis Dunkelberger will ride Plantation.
Baer Stables’ Son of a Bear, second to Russell Road last time, makes his first start at 1 1/8 miles. He should attract his share of attention at the windows by virtue of his back class, which includes a victory in the 2009 West Virginia Vincent Moscarelli Breeders’ Classic.
Son of a Bear’s trainer, Debra Ketterman, thinks physical problems the 4-year-old has suffered are behind him.
“We were dealing with a quarter-crack that had been nagging him,” Ketterman said. “But all of the physical issues are under control now and I think you’re going to see his very best now that he’s going longer.”
Kendrick Carmouche has the call on Son of a Bear.
The wild card in the field again appears to be Fast Break Racing Stable’s Black Belt, third in last year’s edition of the West Virginia Breeders’ Classic. Following a losing streak lasting more than a year, Black Belt has gotten it together recently for trainer Gerald Bennett. Black Belt won a one-mile allowance at Presque Isle followed by a score in an optional claiming allowance at Thistledown Sept. 24.
After spending much of his career on synthetic tracks, Bennett thinks the switch back to dirt is something that will help his horse tremendously.
“He’s definitely a better horse on the dirt than he is on that Tapeta surface they have up at Presque Isle,” said Bennett, who has saddled more than 3,000 winners.
The 4-year-old son of Prized shows four wins in his last seven starts over fast dirt tracks, and has banked nearly $160,000 in earnings in those starts.
The only 3-year-old in the field is Fred High, trained by Linda Albert for owner Edward R. Krishack. The son of Crypto Star enters off a good closing fourth in the Maryland Million Classic on a good track at Laurel Oct. 1. Fred High receives a four-pound weight break.
Nancy L. Terhune's Silver Heart heads the field of 10 older fillies and mares entered in the West Virginia Jefferson Security Bank Cavada Breeders' Classic.
Trained by Gary Capuano and to be ridden by Dunkelberger, the 6-year-old Lion Hearted mare finished third in last year's race as part of the favored 6-5 entry with the victorious Aspenglow. The gray has won nine of 24 starts at the Charles Town oval, including an eight-length romp in an allowance July 30. In her only start since, Silver Heart was beaten by a head when second to Love That Dance in the seven-furlong Maryland Million Distaff Handicap.
Russell's 7-year-old Natures Annuity, also trained by Casey, ran second in last year's race. She is coming off a 6 1/2-furlong allowance race at Charles Town Sept. 17 that she won by a nose only to be disqualified for drifting out in bumping in the stretch. She is looking to snap a seven-race losing streak.
Dixie Heat, who was put up to first over Natures Annuity last time, and Down Town Allen, who finished a half-length farther back in third after getting caught in a pace duel, are also entered back. Come Here Oonga, from the Mark Shuman barn, makes her first appearance since posting a three-length win in the Original Gold Stakes on a sloppy Charles Town track April 16.
$500,000 West Virginia Breeders’ Classic (Race 8, 10:45 p.m.), 3 & Up Bred in WV, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Ghostly Thunder, Ramon Maldonado, 122, Dewayne C. Johnson
2. Green Spring Boy, Gerald Almodovar, 122, Ollie L. Figgins III
3. Son Of A Bear, Kendrick Carmouche, 122, Debra J. Ketterman
4. Sea Rescue, J.D. Acosta, 122, Jeff C. Runco
5. Peaceful Bliss, Arnaldo Bocachica, 122, Ronney W. Brown
6. Black Belt, Ronald Dale Allen Jr., 122, Gerald S. Bennett
7. Russell Road, Luis A. Perez, 122, James W. Casey
8. Plantation, Travis L. Dunkelberger, 122, Rodney Jenkins
9. Lively Reparations, John B. Luzzi Jr., 122, James H. Starkey
10. Fred High, Grant Whitacre, 118, Linda L. Albert
11. Swinging Bernie, Victor Lebron, 122, Michael J. Maker