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Stonestreet Stables, Susan Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith’s Stanford heads a field of eight runners as he attempts to defend his title in the Grade 2, $1,250,000 Charles Town Classic this Saturday at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races. The 1 1/8 mile Charles Town Classic will be the 11th race on the 13-race program that gets underway at 12:45 P.M. EST.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, Stanford took a slightly different route to West Virginia’s eastern panhandle for his title defense than he took in 2016. The WinStar-bred son of Malibu Moon entered the 2016 Charles Town Classic off of consecutive runner-up efforts at Gulfstream in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap and Grade 3 Fred Hooper – both one-turn events. However, Stanford comes into 2017’s three-turn Charles Town Classic off of three consecutive two-turn races down in Florida.
After a six-month break following the Grade 1 Met Mile, Stanford led every step of the way to take the Grade 3 Harlan’s Holiday over Keen Ice and subsequently came up a head short against Imperative – a horse he’ll meet again this Saturday – in the $400,000 Poseidon, both run at Gulfstream. In his most recent outing, Stanford blitzed an overmatched group of opponents in the $100,000 Challenger Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs and stopped the clock in a track-record time of 1:41.75 for the 1 1/16 mile event.
In that Challenger victory, Stanford was equipped with blinkers for the first time in his career, a change that his trainer thinks can move his colt up even further.
“The main objective with putting the blinkers on was keeping him focused throughout the race,” said Pletcher, the winner of seven Eclipse Awards as the country’s top trainer. “He lost his focus a couple of times, and both times we think it cost him the race. Sometimes, it can be difficult to make an equipment change on a horse you’ve had so much success with, but it had been in the back of my mind to try it with him. The Charles Town Classic has been our early-season objective, and we liked the position of the Challenger as a prep. So we thought that would be a good opportunity to try them out, and it worked out well. He maintained his focus, was into the race, but wasn’t rank, and the results showed.”
Hall of Fame jockey John Velasquez will be aboard Stanford for the third straight race as he seeks his first win in the Charles Town Classic, while Pletcher aims for his third.
In his quest to join Researcher as the only Charles Town Classic winner in consecutive years, Stanford has been installed as the 8-to-5 morning line favorite.
#1 Stanford – I was very bullish when picking Stanford to win this race last year, and I feel the exact same way again. As a follower of Charles Town racing day in and day out, I can tell you that front end speed is tough to catch at this track. Stanford possesses plenty of that and comes into this race in fine form after that impressive Challenger Stakes win last time out. He’s drawn the rail here, which might make a wire-to-wire trip that much easier for him. The only threat I’m worried about, Matt King Coal, also possesses a lot of early speed, but I believe that Stanford is simply a better horse.
#4 Matt King Coal – He burst onto the 3-year-old scene with a couple of flashy wins last year and finished a decent fourth in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct before being sidelined with an injury. Since then, he’s returned to win two in a row, and could be ready to live up to the hype that he created last year. He had two nice tune-ups at Laurel Park, so he should be ready for a test like this one. How the race shapes up will be interesting, as the two most talented horses in the race both show a lot of early speed.
#5 Imperative – The old pro is back once again! He always runs in the Charles Town Classic, and he always runs well. Even thought he’s won only five races out of 37 tries, he’s earned over $2,000,000 in his career. He comes off a poor showing in the Santa Anita Handicap, but two races back, he did beat Stanford in the Poseidon by a nose. That race was at 1 1/8 miles, just like this one. Looking at that race it made it hard not to recommend putting him in your multi-race wagers.
#2 Sunny Ridge – He kicked off 2017 with a small stakes win at Aqueduct, then followed that with another small stakes win, both over the inner track at Aqueduct. Seems to always be around in the end when running in these types of races, but he’s never won a graded race other than the Grade 3 Withers Stakes in 2016, which was, once again, over the inner track at Aqueduct. He might just be better when running on that surface, but he’s definitely good enough to have a shot to hit the board here at Charles Town.
NONE – Not looking for any upsets here. The top four I mentioned wouldn’t be a big surprise, and I can’t see the four that I’ve thrown out winning.
#6 War Story – I nearly put him as a “Party Crasher,” but I just couldn’t get there because his form is so spotty. It’s very hard to predict when he’s going to run a big one, and more often than not, he puts in a poor effort.
#8 Cautious Giant – Easily the best race of his career was last time out on the downhill turf course at Santa Anita. He finished second but ran the fastest speed figure of his career. It almost feels like he’s been entered in this spot as a rabbit for War Story and Imperative, as they are all owned by the same person.
#7 Bodhisattva – He’s been running in small stakes at Laurel Park and doing fairly well. However, this spot is way over his head compared to what he usually faces. It doesn’t look like he’s classy enough.
#3 Gangster – He ran in his first-ever stakes race last time out and finished eighth, beaten by 22 lengths. He only has two lifetime wins to his credit, both against competition that doesn’t compare to what he’ll face in this spot.
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