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CHARLES TOWN, WV – In a move reminiscent of the one he used to upset the heavily-favored Game On Dude in the 2014 Charles Town Classic, Loooch Racing and Imaginary Stables’ Imperative swept wide off the final turn and took the lead in deep stretch over a stubborn Matt King Coal to claim his second victory in the Grade 2, $1,250,000, Charles Town Classic by a neck.
While that might have been a familiar scene, an even more familiar scene was Imperative’s rider, Javier Castellano, accepting the Charles Town Classic trophy on Saturday. His win aboard Imperative gave him back-to-back wins in West Virginia’s richest race and three wins in the race’s nine runnings.
Imperative, sent off at as the 5-to-1 fourth choice in the race, was reserved early on behind a quick pace that developed up front between defending champion Stanford and Cautious Giant. After catching Cautious Giant going down the backstretch, Stanford and jockey John Velazquez were able to take the lead going into the far turn, but the quick early pace took its toll on the 1.20-to-1 favorite, and he lost the lead to Matt King Coal turning for home.
Matt King Coal and jockey Horacio Karamanos were able to hold off the challenge from eventual third-place finisher War Story but couldn’t fend off Imperative in the final strides. After making a six-wide move going into the race’s final of three turns, Castellano was able to surge past Matt King Coal in the final 50 yards to earn the $732,000 winner’s share. Just two necks separated the top three finishers.
Trainer Bob Hess – who became the third trainer to saddle Imperative in his four Charles Town Classic starts – liked the trip Imperative had but admitted that he had some doubts in the race’s latter stages.
“Plenty of pace, we had a smooth trip,” said Hess. “I thought we might be in trouble going into the far turn, and I thought he was really wide, but I didn’t know how much horse he had left. Javier found that extra gear, and when he got to the front, he might have hung a touch but then kind of surged again, so it was exciting. Very exciting.”
Longshot Bodhisattva completed the superfecta, while Stanford checked in fifth. Sunny Ridge, Gangster, and Cautious Giant completed the order of finish. Off as the even-money favorite, Stanford was hoping to defend his 2016 Charles Town Classic victory over Imperative, who finished fourth in that edition.
Hess also attributed a lot of his horse’s success to his fondness for not only the Charles Town racing surface, but the East Coast in general that he believes is better for the gelding’s tender feet.
“I love the surface,” Hess said. “I don’t mean wet or not wet, either. It looks like a really kind surface and the banks on the turns are superb and the best horse won. I think a big key was Ron (Paolucci) allowing us to take him to Keeneland and train him on the synthetic there, which is a really kind surface, which is what this horse needs. He needs Gulfstream, he needs these soft East Coast tracks.”
Following the race, Ron Paolucci, principle owner of Loooch Racing, not only agreed with his trainer’s assessment of the benefit of East Coast surfaces for Imperative, but also offered up a glimpse into where the son of Bernardini might be seen next.
“The big key for him is getting him away from California,” Paulucci said. “It’s hard. It’s not a good surface for him to train on. He runs there on all heart. I think we’re going to have a good campaign with him this summer out here on the East Coast, and I think if you look at every race he’s run outside of California, it’s been dynamite. We’re thinking about the Met Mile. Giving him a little time in between. Looks like there would be a lot of speed in that race. But we’ll see. That’s the initial plan.”
Despite the rain throughout the day, the all-sources handle of $3,900,679 was the fourth-largest in track history, though down from the $4,424,048 wagered on last year’s card.
Imperative returned $12, $4.80, and $5. Matt King Coal brought back $7.40 and $4.60, while War Story paid $3.80 to show.
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