Charles Town Wants Top Field for $1M Classic

Preparations have begun for the $1-million Charles Town Classic in West Virginia.

The top local horses have begun preparations for the April 17 Charles Town Classic, which will offer a $1-million purse this year to become one of the richest races in North America for 3-year-olds and up. And Charles Town officials have begun lobbying for participation by some of the top horses in the United States.

Last year, the first Classic offered a total purse of $1 million if it was won by a grade I winner. The race attracted a few, including Commentator, but locally-based Researcher, a grade III winner at the time, won the race and purse was scaled down to $600,000.

This year, all entrants will compete for $1 million. The race is held at 1 1/8 miles around three turns at Charles Town, which has a three-quarter-mile racing surface.

“The purse and type of race fit this spot on the calendar, and we think it’s an opportunity to attract a very high-caliber field,” said Erich Zimny, director of racing operations at Charles Town. “It certainly did in 2009, and we’ll work our hardest to see it happens again in 2010.”

Zimny visited South Florida the week of Jan. 25 to talk to horsemen, and Charles Town racing secretary Randy Wehrman is heading to Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots in Louisiana to do the same later in February.

“We realize a lot can happen between now and April 17, but you can’t get on people’s radar too early,” Zimny said.

Local trainers told Charles Town officials their horses are being prepped for the Classic.

Rutledge Farm’s Researcher, trained by Jeff Runco, worked four furlongs in :47 2/5 Feb. 2 at Charles Town in his first workout since a sixth-place finish in the Native Dancer Stakes at Laurel Park in Maryland Jan. 2.

“We’ll see how it all plays out between now and April, but I’m trying to get at least one race into him before the Charles Town Classic,” Runco said, mentioning the $70,000 John B. Campbell Handicap at 1 1/8 miles at Laurel Feb. 13.

Mark Russell’s Russell Road, a West Virginia-bred who won seven of nine starts in 2009 including the $500,000 West Virginia Breeders Classic at 1 1/8 miles at Charles Town, worked a half-mile in :48 at Charles Town Feb. 4.

“We gave him about six weeks to relax out at the farm,” trainer James W. Casey said. “He didn’t lose much of his fitness, and we’ll look to run at least once before the Charles Town Classic.”

The April 17 Classic card includes the $250,000 Sugar Maple Stakes for fillies and mares at seven furlongs, $100,000 Blue & Gold Stakes, and $75,000 Webb Snyder Stakes. Post time for the first race that day will be 6 p.m. EDT instead of the usual 7:15 p.m.