2015 Charles Town Classic Preview

Two tracks have their biggest race day of the year on Saturday. Hawthorne hosts the Illinois Derby (GIII) and the Sixty Sails Handicap (GIII), the only graded events of the spring meet.  Paul Mazur delves into both of these graded stakes at the local track while Nicolle Neulist provides full-card Illinois Derby Day selections from Hawthorne.

However, Charles Town also has its marquee day on April 18.  Saturday’s program at the West Virginia oval includes eight stakes, with one graded.  That graded stakes is one of the richest events of the year for the handicap division: the Charles Town Classic (GII), a three-turn, 1 1/8 mile test with a $1,500,000 purse.  The race drew last year’s winner Imperative, as well as last year’s third-place winner Moreno.  However, most notable among its entrants is champion Shared Belief, whose first race outside of California will come in the Charles Town Classic.

This year marks the seventh running of the Charles Town Classic.  Inaugurated in 2009 at its current 1 1/8 mile distance, it achieved Grade III status in 2011 and then earned its current Grade II rating the next year.  Imperative will try to win the race a second time, a feat so far accomplished by one other horse: Charles Town stalwart Researcher, who won the first two editions of the race.  Imperative himself quashed a repeat bid last year; Game On Dude took home the million dollar first-place prize in 2013, but settled for second behind Imperative in 2014.  This was not the first time that the previous year’s winner had finished second: 2011 victor Duke of Mischief attempted to repeat in 2012, but Caixa Eletronica kicked home best that year.


Caixa Eletronica draws clear of 2011 Charles Town Classic winner Duke of Mischief, frequent Chicago-area runner Mister Marti Gras, and all the rest to prevail in the 2012 Charles Town Classic.

This year, instead of racing at night, Charles Town will run this race as part of a one-off daytime card.  Horse Racing Radio Network will present live audio of the Charles Town Classic on Saturday.  Their program will run from 4:30pm-6:30pm EDT, and play on both Sirius 93 and the HRRN website.  Free live video of the Charles Town Classic (and all racing at the track) is available on both the Charles Town website as well as the Horse Races Now smartphone app.

Charles Town Races, Saturday, April 18

Race 12: Charles Town Classic (GII), four-year-olds and up, one and one eighth miles on the dirt, post time 6:05pm EDT

Let’s get one thing out of the way before we go any further.  Is SHARED BELIEF the most likely winner of this race?  Absolutely.  The speed, the class, the consistency, the versatility of pace: it’s all right there.  SHARED BELIEF is the best horse in training in America.  He will not be foolish enough to send with MORENO, and he has shown the most consistent and best speed of the bunch.  But, SHARED BELIEF hardly looks bettable here.  He is 2/5 on the morning line, and could easily go off shorter than that.  SHARED BELIEF has never raced outside of California before.  SHARED BELIEF has never raced in a bullring before.  With one of those things changing, it might be worth betting at such short odds that his class would carry him home.  With both?  Odds as short as 4/5 would be square, but 2/5 or less is not worth the risk.

This race requires either finding a price horse you like, or passing altogether.

From a wagering perspective, PAGE MCKENNEY is the most interesting horse in this field, and will be easily bettable if he stays near his 20/1 morning line.  Though this race will be the stiffest class test of his career, his first graded attempt, his speeds fit well with the rest of the field.  He is also as consistent as a horse could be: he has hit the board in his last thirteen starts.  His versatility of pace should serve him well.  He is a confirmed off-pace type, but can run a sharp race anywhere from a pressing spot to a rally from the clouds.  His late pace stacks up favourably with the likes of VYJACK and STREET BABE, with one difference that makes him stand out over that pair: PAGE MCKENNEY is better proven at nine furlongs than anyone else in this race but SHARED BELIEF and MORENO.  In four starts at the distance, his last four times out, he has two wins and two second-place finishes.  Most of his starts have been on the mid-Atlantic circuit, though he has taken his show as far afield as Gulfstream and run well.  The bullring will be new, but unlike with SHARED BELIEF, the price will be long enough with PAGE MCKENNEY to make that risk attractive.

IMPERATIVE deserves a mention, as the only horse in this field other than MORENO who has raced over the Charles Town oval before.  He won this race last year, showing that he can run a good race on the bullring.  However, the question her is his form.  One start is not enough to call IMPERATIVE a Charles Town savant, and he has been well-beaten in all eight starts since that Charles Town Classic win.  IMPERATIVE will be a long price despite being the defending champion, but when looking for a runner with which to beat the classy and consistent SHARED BELIEF, a consistent runner like PAGE MCKENNEY with a question surrounding the bullring has more appeal than an inconsistent runner like IMPERATIVE who has won on the track, but whose form is questionable at best.

MORENO is the only other Grade I winner in the field, and In terms of pace, MORENO will send.  The biggest question of the race is how easy MORENO’s lead will be.  STREET BABE, SHARED BELIEF, and GENERAL A ROD have shown some early speed in races, but have shown enough skill at rating that they would be highly unlikely to send on that kamikaze mission just to tire MORENO out.  However, WARRIOROFTHEROSES cannot rate, and has shown strong enough early pace to make him likely to dog MORENO badly on the front end.  WARRIOROFTHEROSES has no chance to win this race unless MORENO completely fails to fire (or gets taken out like he did in the Breeders’ Cup Classic last year), since he cannot win on anything but an easy lead.  However, he will likely hassle MORENO enough on the front end that MORENO may not hold on.  MORENO has shown enough gameness when just off the pace or when pressured early that he should hit the board even with WARRIOROFTHEROSES on him early, but the presence of the other can’t rate type in the field diminishes his win chances considerably.

Selections:

#5 PAGE MCKENNEY (20/1)

#4 SHARED BELIEF (2/5)

#6 MORENO (7/2)

Longshot:  Everyone in this field save SHARED BELIEF and possibly MORENO stands to be a longshot, and PAGE MCKENNEY will likely go off at the longest odds of any horse this space finds interesting.  However, #7 GENERAL A ROD (12/1) should be an overlay in this field.  The General will be starting for the second time for trainer Todd Pletcher, and scored a commanding victory last out in the Challenger Stakes at Tampa Bay.  He stretches out from eight and a half furlongs to nine here.  Though his only previous start at nine furlongs was his least impressive Derby prep, a third-place finish behind Constitution in the Florida Derby (GI) last year, he looks to be a stronger horse at four, and his being out of a Dynaformer mare gives him a shot to get the distance.  Pacewise he should be near the front, but he rated well enough last out to suggest that he could stay out of a fight between MORENO and WARRIOROFTHEROSES were that to transpire.  Being forwardly placed can help on the bullring, so if he takes to it and the speed fades, he could be in the mix for a square price.

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