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Jeff Nations

Researcher returning?

It will be tough to top Saturday night's racing at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races for trainer Jeff Runco, who picked up three stakes victories in the West Virginia Breeders Classics XXIV, including a huge upset win as 57-1 long-shot Sea Rescue shocked a loaded field featuring defending champion Russell Road and past winner Ghostly Thunder in the $500,000 West Virginia Breeders Classic.

More good news could be coming for Runco, though. The popular 6-year-old gelding Researcher, a Virginia-bred two-time winner of the $1 million Charles Town Classic and arguably the best Charles Town-based thoroughbred in years, could be making his way back to Runco's Coleswood Farm operation in the near future.

Researcher, an unlikely champion from humble beginnings, won his last start under Runco's guidance by claiming his second straight Charles Town Classic on April 17 with a 1 3/4-lengths win in 1:49.94. Researcher, who beat a field that included graded stakes winners Awesome Gem and Redding Colliery, was running for new owner Zohar Ben-Dov's Kinross Corp., that night, and it turned out to be his last on Charles Town's track. Kinross had plans to make Researcher, which won the inaugural Charles Town Classic for late owner Hermen Greenberg's Rutledge Farm by stunning a field headlined by the legendary Commentator (who finished fourth) into a steeplechase horse.

It seemed an odd decision, to say the least. At the time, Researcher was at the top of his game and ranked among the nation's leading money winners. In 26 career starts, Researcher won 13 times and earned more than $1 million. Not a bad investment by Greenberg, who obtained Researcher as a $5,000 charitable donation to the Virginia Tech Foundation's M.A.R.E. Center in Middleburg. Researcher, a son of Two Smart out of the dam Wild Magnolia, came from donated stock.

So far, Researcher's new foray in steeplechase hasn't taken off. Bad news for Kinross, perhaps, but potentially a wonderful development for Runco. He hopes to learn sometime within a month whether Researcher will make a return to the dirt track. If so, one of the track's favorite horses could well be ready to once again defend his crown in next year's Charles Town Classic.

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