To the average person handicapping the $1 million Charles Town Classic, Researcher would hardly seem to qualify as an underdog. The gelding by Two Start won the inaugural running of the 1 1/8-mile race a year ago and though he will face top older horses like Gone Astray, Acting Zippy, Awesome Gem, and Understatement in the 2010 renewal on April 17, he again is a major contender to reach the winner’s circle.
But Researcher’s underdog status has less to do with his talent on the racetrack—the 6-year-old has won 12 of 25 starts for earnings of more than $800,000, has recorded multiple Beyer Speed Figures of 100 or more, and set the Charles Town Races & Slots 1 1/8-mile track record last year with an a breathtaking 22 1/4-length allowance romp—and more to do with the connections behind his success.
Researcher was owned by Hermen Greenberg up until he passed away at the age of 89 a little more than a month ago. A former World War II veteran who rose from humble beginnings to become a real estate mogul, Greenberg in 1986 began a successful Thoroughbred breeding operation in Middleburg, Va. Under the name Rutledge Farm, Greenberg bred multiple stakes winners, most notably the 1993 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner and Eclipse Award finalist Colonial Affair.
But for all of his breeding success, Greenberg was never fortunate enough to have that one star horse that he raced himself. That is, until 2005 when he donated $5,000 to the Virginia Tech Foundation MARE Center, whose mission is to advance the health and well-being of horses. In exchange for his donation, Greenberg was given a yearling that the MARE Center bred. His name was Researcher.
“Dad was a big believer in helping people and he used to buy yearlings from Virginia Tech every year,” said Greenberg’s son, Aleco Bravo-Greenberg. “He really enjoyed supporting the community.”
The bay gelding was not expected to do much on the racetrack, but almost immediately he showed talent. In 2006 as a juvenile, Researcher broke his maiden at first asking by 8 1/2 lengths. In 2008 he won three consecutive stakes, including the grade III Queens County Handicap at Aqueduct, and last season he won three more times, the biggest one coming in the Charles Town Classic when he defeated the mighty Commentator, which Greenberg watched trackside from his wheelchair.
“Dad was so thrilled being able to see him in the paddock before the race,” said Bravo-Greenberg. “He turned and said to me, ‘now that’s a racehorse’. As a lifelong horseman, everyone wants that one big horse. It was so great for dad to finally get it and be able to watch him win that day, especially as the hometown hero. It was kind of like a last hurrah for him. It made his life.”
Researcher prepped for this weekend’s Charles Town Classic with a dominating 6 1/2-length score in an optional claimer March 27. He will run in the Classic under the name of his new owner, Zohar Ben-Dov of Kinross Farm, a longtime friend of Greenberg. Earlier on the card, Charles Town will honor Greenberg for his decades of commitment to the racing industry.
“Our family will be there,” Bravo-Greenberg said. “We hope Researcher will be able to send dad off the right way. He deserves it; he was a great man who helped a lot of people.
“This is a double underdog story. Dad was voted 'most unlikely to succeed' in high school and look how he turned out. And Researcher is the hometown hero that nobody expected to win.”
Researcher will be ridden by Luis Perez for trainer Jeff Runco.
Among those Researcher will face in a field of 10 is Gone Astray, winner of the Pennsylvania Derby and Ohio Derby (gr. II) in 2009, and third in Oaklawn Park’s Razorback Handicap (gr. III) last month in his 4-year-old debut. The colt may benefit for the three-turn Classic.
"The one thing I know about this horse now is he likes to race around turns,” said Gone Astray trainer Shug McGaughey. "He likes to run around out there and he should like getting a third turn. Of course, you never know for sure until they do it, but I think he should handle it.”
Also in the mix are Acting Zippy, winner of John B. Connally Turf Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Sam Houston earlier this season; veteran millionaire Awesome Gem, who at age 7 is still running strong; and Understatement, an improving 5-year-old who enters off consecutive stakes wins in New York for trainer Todd Pletcher.
Post time for the Classic, the last of four stakes on the program, is slated for 10:30 p.m. EST.
$1,000,000 Charles Town Classic (Race 10, 10:30 p.m. EST), 4 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Fiddlers Afleet (NY), C Hill, 114, M E Hushion
2. Gone Astray (KY), R Albarado, 114, C R McGaughey III
3. Encaustic (MD), J Shepherd, 116, M Shuman
4. Awesome Gem (KY), D R Flores, 114, C Dollase
5. Acting Zippy (FL), T J Thompson, 120, W D Bennett
6. Understatement (KY), D Cohen, 118, T A Pletcher
7. Indian Dance (MD), L Garcia, 118, L E Murray
8. No Advantage (KY), J D Acosta, 114, S S Beattie
9. Researcher (VA), L A Perez 116, J C Runco
10. Redding Colliery (KY), A R Napravnik, 118, K P McLaughlin
11. Enriched (CA), T L Dunkelberger, 118, D F O'Neill
12. Tizway (KY), R Maragh, 114, H J Bond
13. Wicked B. Havior (FL), J Bravo, 118, B Tagg