An intriguing field of 10 head by Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) winner Game On Dude has been entered for the $1 million Charles Town Classic (gr. III), the first graded stakes in the almost 80-year history of Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races.
The Classic, at 1 1/8 miles, April 16 holds another distinction. According to Charles Town officials, the Classic is, with the exception of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, the first stakes with a field of 10 or more horses since the 2006 Arlington Million (gr. IT) in which all starters are graded stakes winners.
The Classic, which also drew four also-eligible horses in case of scratches, is one of five stakes on an 11-race program that begins at 6 p.m. EDT. The feature is scheduled for about 10:30 p.m.
Game On Dude, owned by the Lanni Family Trust, Mercedes Stable, and Bernard Schiappa, survived a lengthy inquiry to win the March 5 Big’ Cap for the first grade I victory of his career. The 4-year-old Kentucky-bred gelding by Awesome Again is now two-for-two this year and has been working well in California for trainer Bob Baffert.
Baffert named David Flores to ride given the jockey’s experience riding at Fairplex Park, which has a five-eighths-mile track. At Charles Town, which has a three-quarter-mile racing surface, 1 1/8-mile races are run around three turns; Flores rode Awesome Gem to a second-place finish in last year’s Charles Town Classic.
Chantal Sutherland, who rode Game On Dude in the Big ’Cap, will be back aboard the next time he races, Baffert said.
“I sent my horse up there, and I told (Flores) to put two marbles in his mouth, and to spit a marble out every time he crosses the finish line to remind himself there’s another lap to go around,” Baffert told Charles Town officials. “He’s a tremendous bullring rider. He worked him for me here and got to know him a little bit.”
Tackleberry, owned and trained by Luis Oliveras, enters the Classic off three straight stakes wins in Florida. The 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding by Montbrook win the Sunshine Millions Classic in late January, the Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship (gr. II) in February, and the Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. II) in March.
Tackleberry, who consistently shows speed no matter the distance, figures in the early mix in his Charles Town debut.
“He has been adapting to anything I put him on,” Olivares said. “I don’t think he’ll have a problem. I’ve had some nice horses before, but he is very nice. He’s a fighter. He goes seven-eighths, he goes a mile—any distance, and he’s still fighting at the end.”
Game On Dude should be in the clear early from outside post 10, but there is a short run into the first of three turns at Charles Town. Tackleberry drew post two, meaning he’ll have to avoid being squeezed by horses to his outside.
Three horses return from last year’s Classic: West Point Thoroughbreds’ Awesome Gem (second), Phipps Stables’ Gone Astray (seventh), and Suarez Racing Inc.’s No Advantage. Gone Astray clipped heels entering the first turn in last year’s race and lost all chance.
Gone Astray, a 5-year-old Kentucky homebred horse trained by Claude “Shug” McGaughey, hasn’t raced since last fall at Monmouth Park but has won multiple graded stakes.
“I know that Game On Dude’s in there, but we’ll try to get him started,” McGaughey said. “I think he’s a lot better around two turns than one. Last year, we never got a chance.”
$1 Million Charles Town Classic (gr. III, Race 10, April 16, 10:30 p.m. EDT), 4YO&Up, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. No Advantage, Manual Chaves, 120, Stephanie S. Beattie
2. Tackleberry, Javier Santiago, 120, Luis Olivares
3. Tizway, Rajiv Maragh, 114, H. James Bond
4. Acclamation, Christian Santiago Reyes, 114, Donald Warren
5. Rule, John Velasquez, 114, Todd A. Pletcher
6. Inherit the Gold, Eddie Castro, 120, James Hooper
7. Gone Astray, Cornelio Velasquez, 114, Claude R. McGaughey III
8. Duke of Mischief, Joe Bravo, 114, David Fawkes
9. Awesome Gem, Travis Dunkelberger, 114, Craig Dollase
10. Game on Dude, David R. Flores, 123, Bob Baffert
11. (AE) Quindici Man, Martin Pedroza, 114, Craig A. Lewis
12. (AE) Schoolyard Dreams, Kendrick Carmouche, 114, Derek S. Ryan
13. (AE) Researcher, J.D. Acosta, 114, Neil R. Morris
14. (AE) Icabad Crane, Alan Garcia, 118, H. Graham Motion