Researcher who won the first two editions of the 1 1/8-mile event.

Researcher who won the first two editions of the 1 1/8-mile event.

Coglianese Photos

Rich Graded 'Classic' Tops Charles Town Slate

The $1 million Charles Town Classic, now graded, will be run April 16.

The first graded stakes in the history of Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races highlights a 2011 stakes schedule worth more than $3 million at the West Virginia track.

The $3 million figure doesn’t include the West Virginia Breeders Classics program, which usually offers between $1 million and $2 million in purses in October. That nine-race program, set for Oct. 15, will be unveiled at a later date.

Charles Town again will offer three Saturday “big event” programs on which multiple stakes will be clustered: Charles Town Classic day April 16; the Charles Town Sprint Festival June 18; and the Charles Town Race for the Ribbon Sept. 17. The package features a few stakes that offer the largest purse in the country for the respective division and distance.

The $1 million Classic, inaugurated in 2009, earned grade III status for 2011. The first two editions of the 1 1/8-mile event for 4-year-olds and up were won by locally-based Researcher, and the races subsequently produced multiple graded stakes winners.

Erich Zimny, director of racing operations at Charles Town, acknowledged the impact graded status has on the race and the track, but the million-dollar pot still goes a long way toward luring quality horses. Based on 2010 purses, the Charles Town Classic is the second-richest race for older horses at a mile or more along with the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and Pacific Classic, both grade I events; the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) leads the way at $5 million.

“We expect it to have a positive impact but it’s tough to say how much,” Zimny said Dec. 20. “This year, we had someone who told us what sealed up them not coming to our race was the fact that it wasn’t graded. For most people, the purse is still what grabs their attention, but the grade is unquestionably a big add-on.

“We’re beyond thrilled about finally getting a graded race at Charles Town and the prospects of trying to move it up the ladder even further, but we’re also trying to push some other races of ours in that direction as well.”

Zimny said he expects the “formula for marketing and promoting (the Classic) to remain similar to the past couple of years. The racing office has done a great job in reaching out to horsemen and getting the race on their radar, so they’ve always covered us from that end. We expect a mix of print and television coverage, but we’re still working on exactly what it will be.”

The Classic program, which begins at 6 p.m. EDT, will include the $250,000 Sugar Maple for fillies and mares at seven furlongs; the $100,000 Blue & Gold Stakes for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs; the $55,000 Webb Snyder Stakes for 3-year-olds and up at 4 1/2 furlongs; and two $50,000 stakes for West Virginia-bred runners.

The Sprint Festival features the $400,000 Red Legend for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs. It’s the richest sophomore sprint in the United States, and this year it was won by Big Drama, eventual winner of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I) and a top candidate for Eclipse Award honors for 2010.

The Race for the Ribbon program features the $400,000 Charles Town Oaks for 3-year-old fillies at seven furlongs. It, too, is the richest race in the U.S. by division and distance.