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A short field of seven are set to go to post in Saturday’s Grade 2, $1,200,000 Charles Town Classic. Contested at 1 1/8 miles, the Charles Town Classic will go off as race 11 on a 13-race card on the track’s biggest day of the year. Started in 2009, the Classic has had such winners as Game On Dude, Moreno, Stanford, and Imperative. Local post time for the race will be 5:36 PM ET.
Diversify headlines this year’s field as he makes his 2018 debut. Last year, he burst onto the scene with a small stakes win at Saratoga before a much bigger victory in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park. His connections decided to skip the Breeders’ Cup, opting instead for a start in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap, where he finished fourth after setting the early pace. He recently recored a bullet workout on April 14 at Palm Meadows, signaling that he’s ready to roll.
“He’s doing super,” said trainer Richard Violette, Jr. “He’s shown that he’s run well fresh, and we’re looking forward to getting his 5-year-old campaign kicked off in a big way.
“He’s stalked and won before, and that was by design, so if someone wants to go crazy on the front end, they’re more than welcome,” he continued. “A lot of it will depend on post positions and the break. If he breaks like he does in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, he was in front by 2 (lengths) in a couple of jumps. Last time in the Clark, he broke a beat slow, and (jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr.) had to get after him a little bit early, and that really had him keyed up. But the other thing is that he didn’t really like the track that night. Irad said he never really got a hold of it, so I thought all things considered, he still ran pretty big that night. But I think it will be a rider’s race.”
The biggest challenge to the favorite will come from the well-traveled War Story. He recently finished first by over 5 lengths in the $100,000 Challenger Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, where he earned the second-fastest Beyer Speed Figure of his career. Trainer Jorge Navarro has lured top jockey Javier Castellano to ride the horse for this race, a solid replacement for regular rider Ortiz, Jr.
Leading the way from the Mid-Atlantic region will be Afleet Willy, entering this spot off of two straight victories. The Claudio Gonzalez-trained gelding is also two-for-three at this distance, including last time out in a wire-to-wire victory in the John B. Campbell Stakes at Laurel Park. Jomar Torres will have the ride once again.
The field from the rail out: Fear the Cowboy, You’re to Blame, Discreet Lover, Something Awesome, War Story, Diversify, and Afleet Willy.
#6 Diversify – There’s absolutely no doubt thay this is the most talented horse in the race, and his running style should fit the Charles Town configuration perfectly. Horses on or near the lead have had great success in this race. You’d think that he’ll be keen and ready to go early on, but the only question mark will be his fitness level. This layoff of five months is a bit worrisome, but he’s had several sharp workouts heading into this spot. He does have another pace presence to deal with in Afleet Willy, but his experience and class should allow him to excel. If he’s at his best, then he can wire this field easily and cash in on a big payday.
#5 War Story – There’s a lot to like about War Story as he comes into the race off of one of the best of his career. He also fits from a class prospective, having faced much tougher horses than what he’ll see here. Last year, he ran third in this race behind Imperative and Matt King Coal. Diversify might be a bit better than those two, but if he’s not ready to run off of a layoff, then War Story will have every chance to win the race. He needs to hope for a speed duel between Afleet Willy and Diversify, as well.
#7 Afleet Willy – He seems to have found his stride lately, with two wins in a row, and four out of his last five. His best trip is to be on the early pace, which is where you want to be at Charles Town. His pace presence could bother Diversify, but at the same time, I’m not sure that Afleet Willy has ever raced with a speed horse like him. The key to the race will likely come down to how the pace unfolds between the two of them, so he’ll play a factor.
#1 Fear the Cowboy – This is a hard-knocking horse that will be competitive no matter where he runs. In his last two starts, he faced Grade 1 company in the Pegasus World Cup and the Santa Anita Handicap. He was no worse than fourth in either of those races, but he was also not close to threatening the winner. This drop down in class is going to be to his liking, but his running style may not suit the Charles Town configuration. He’ll make a run, but it might not be enough.
#4 Something Awesome – This hot horse seems to be getting better with each start. His win in the Harrison E. Johnson Memorial Stakes at Laurel Park probably didn’t turn a lot of heads, but he earned his first triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure. Now he must step up in class, but this isn’t a tough Grade 2 field in comparison to others that you might see. This horse has won four of five since moving to the barn of Jose Corrales and seems to be a logical play if the price is right.
#2 You’re to Blame – Trainer Todd Pletcher has had success in this race in the past, but You’re to Blame looks hard-pressed to give him more. After winning an allowance race two back, the horse looked to be on track, but he was beaten easily by War Story in the Challenger Stakes last time out. He’ll need to improve to have a shot.
#3 Discreet Lover – There are no real standouts in this field of seven. Even though Discreet Lover is listed last, it isn’t out of the question that he can win. Last time out, he picked up a nice win in the Grade 3 Excelsior Stakes at Aqueduct with a huge closing kick. If the pace sets up well for him here, then he could come with a big run.
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