One year after registering his most lucrative victory, Duke of Mischief returns to Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races to defend his title in West Virginia's $1 million Charles Town Classic (gr. II) on the night of April 14.
Duke of Mischief is part a full lineup of 10 graded stakes winners for the 1 1/8-mile Classic, which was elevated to grade III status in 2011 in just its third year. It received an additional upgrade for this year's renewal in recognition of its increasing prominence on the national schedule for older horses.
Post time for the Classic, the 12th race on the program, is 10:30 p.m. EDT on Saturday. The card includes the $250,000 Robert Hilton Memorial for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs and the $200,000 Sugar Maple for older fillies and mares, also at seven furlongs.
In last year's Classic, conducted on a sloppy track, the well-traveled Duke of Mischief rallied wide into the third and final turn over the six-furlong oval to overtake Game On Dude approaching the top of the stretch. He drew out to win by 2 1/4 lengths.
Now 6, Duke of Mischief is trained by David Fawkes, who co-owns the horse with Alex and Joann Lieblong and Marilyn McMaster. The chestnut son of Graeme Hall has won more than $1.7 million in his career but has finished off the board in his two starts this year. He was most recently 11th in the Tampa Bay Stakes (gr. IIIT), a rare start on grass Feb. 25. Among his seven victories from 26 lifetime starts are four graded stakes.
“He kind of got off his game a little bit and lost interest over the year, but I worked him with (top sprinter) Apriority, and he has had some dynamite works,” Fawkes said. “I’m very confident. I think the horse is doing really well right now. He would have been a great bull ring horse.”
Also back this year is Tackleberry, who was a game fourth last time after setting the pace. The 5-year-old gelded son of Montbrook , owned and trained by Luis Olivares, is a tough and versatile campaigner.
Tackleberry has won stakes in short sprints, one-turn miles, and around two turns. In his most recent start, after a nearly 10-month layoff, he finished a strong second in the one-mile Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. II). The third-place finisher that day, Jackson Bend , returned to capture the Carter Handicap (gr. I) April 7 at Aqueduct Racetrack.
“I’m expecting him to run a good race,” said Olivares, who has tabbed jockey Rajiv Maragh for the mount. “He’s a much fresher horse this year than when he went (to Charles Town) last year."
Whether leading or stalking, Tackleberry will have company. Redding Colliery, from the barn of Kiaran McLaughlin, has done his best running on the pace, including a devastating wire-to-wire score two years ago in the Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. II). Earlier in 2010, the gray son of Mineshaft stalked the pace in the Charles Town Classic and took the lead heading for home before finishing a close third.
Pants on Fire, a multiple graded stakes winner last year at 3, and West Coast shippers Tres Borrachos and Skipshot have done their best work on or near the pace.
The 2011 Louisiana Derby (gr. II) winner Pants on Fire will have the services of regular rider Anna Napravnik. He has been galloping sharply in the mornings at Charles Town in preparation following a fifth-place finish in the New Orleans Handicap (gr. II) April 1.
Tres Borrachos, last summer's San Diego Handicap (gr. II) winner at Del Mar, is part of a strong contingent shipping from the West Coast for the Classic. Uh Oh Bango, winner of the San Pasqual (gr. II) in January, comes in off a rallying third in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I); Skipshot, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, enters off a third-place finish in the 1 1/2-mile Tokyo City Handicap (gr. III), also at Santa Anita; Norvsky finished fifth in the Big Cap. Earlier this year, he won the San Gabriel (gr. IIT) on the turf.
Norvsky’s trainer Donald Warren had a frustrating first experience last year in the Classic when his horse, Acclamation, finished 10th on the sealed and sloppy track. Acclamation subsequently went on to a terrific campaign and earned an Eclipse Award as champion older male.
“We had a lot of mud last year, so we were watching the weather pretty close this year,” Warren said. “In California, we don’t get a lot of mud.
“He’s developed into a good horse in his own right. He had a little bit of a troubled trip in the Santa Anita Handicap, and I think he might have been third in that race. I like the million-dollar purse (of the Classic). We don’t have those big races back here.”
Mister Marti Gras ships north from Fair Grounds for trainer Neil Pessin after running fourth in the New Orleans. The 5-year-old gelded son of Belong to Me won two graded stakes races last year and was a hard-trying fourth when five wide in the Clark Handicap (gr. I) in November at Churchill Downs.
“Last race (the jockey) got off and apologized for the ride,” Pessin said. “I think he’ll run a really big race, as long as there’s enough speed to set it up for him.”
Trainer Todd Pletcher spiced up the field further by throwing Caixa Eletronica into the mix.
A $62,500 claim last year by owner Mike Repole, Caixa Eletronica has proven fast, consistent, and versatile. At Saratoga last summer, he won a six-furlong sprint carrying 127 pounds and followed that with a win at 1 1/8 miles under 131 pounds. He then went on to place third in the Vosburgh (gr. I) at Belmont Park.
“We’re intrigued by the race and the horse is doing really well at the moment,” Pletcher said.
$1 Million Charles Town Classic (gr. II, Race 12, 10:30 p.m.), 4 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Tres Borrachos, Kendrick Carmouche, 116, Martin F. Jones
2. Tackleberry, Rajiv Maragh, 116, Luis Olivares
3. Mister Marti Gras, Julien R. Leparoux, 116, Neil L. Pessin
4. Pants on Fire, Rosie Napravnik, 118, Kelly J. Breen
5. Skipshot, Travis L. Dunkelberger, 118, Jerry Hollendorfer
6. Caixa Eletronica, Javier Castellano, 116, Todd A. Pletcher
7. Duke of Mischief, Joe Bravo, 116, David Fawkes
8. Norvsky, Kevin Krigger, 120, Donald Warren
9. Redding Colliery, Alan Garcia, 118, Kiaran P. McLaughlin
10. Uh Oh Bango, Aaron T. Gryder, 120, R. Kory Owens
11. Norman Asbjornson, J.D. Acosta, 118, Christopher W. Grove
12. Cease, Miguel Mena, 118, Albert M. Stall, Jr.
13. Eighttofasttocatch, Sheldon Russell, 118, Timothy L. Keefe