R. Larry Johnson, who began racing horses for $2,000 purses at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in the mid-1970s, more than stepped it up a notch the evening of Sept. 17 when his homebred Strike the Moon rallied strongly and held on to win the $400,000 Charles Town Oaks for 3-year-old fillies (VIDEO).
Strike the Moon, who finished a close second in the grade II Delaware Oaks in July, won the first stakes of her career. Though the Oaks isn’t graded, it attracted several graded stakes winners.
“Winning a race like this is pretty cool,” Johnson said. “I raced my first horse here in 1976, and my grandfather trained him. I know he’s watching.”
Strike the Moon, a Kentucky-bred by Malibu Moon out of the Star de Naskra mare Star Kell, was ridden in the Oaks by Julian Pimentel for trainer Mike Trombetta. She was never far back in the two-turn, seven-furlong Oaks from post 9 despite honest fractions, made her bid for the lead on the final turn, and held off the fast-closing Groupie Doll to win by three-quarters of a length.
Groupie Doll, winner of the grade III Gardenia Stakes versus older fillies and mares at Ellis Park in August, got away last and remained there through fast fractions of :22.92 for the first quarter mile and :46.26 for the half mile. Groupie Doll, owned by trainer William “Buff” Bradley along with his father, Fred, circled the field with a strong rally but couldn’t make up enough ground under Greta Kuntzweiler to catch Strike the Moon, who won in 1:24.97 on a fast track.
Strike the Moon, who paid $11 to win, was fitted with blinkers for the first time in the Charles Town Oaks.
“The filly may have lost a little focus last time out,” Trombetta said of Strike the Moon’s fourth-place finish in the grade III Monmouth Oaks. “We thought it was a big night, so we are going to do it right tonight. I was having flashbacks of the Delaware Oaks, but Julian did a great job.”
Pimentel said he got a perfect trip, and that the blinkers “may have helped keep her a little more focused tonight.”
Trombetta said he wasn’t sure of the next spot for Strike the Moon, who has now earned $400,670 with three wins and four seconds in eight starts.