As the health the of horse racing industry continues to decline at nearby Maryland tracks Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park, Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races continues to build on an impressive open stakes program.
The latest coup for the West Virginia track came on Thursday, when Charles Town announced it has been awarded its first-ever graded stakes race. The American Graded Stakes Committee elevated the 2011 Charles Town Classic to Grade III status in its first year of eligibility, meaning the showcase race will likely attract even better competition for the third running tentatively scheduled for April 16, 2011.
Erich Zimny, Charles Town's Director of Racing Operations, has overseen the rapid strides in the track's open stakes program over the past two years. The Charles Town Classic is the biggest draw among them, thanks to unparalleled purses at the track. In the inaugural running in 2009, the Charles Town Classic featured a tiered-purse structure designed to provide incentives to draw graded stakes winners. The plan succeeded admirably, as multiple Grade I winner Commentator and fellow Grade I winner Mast Track headlined likely the best starting field Charles Town had ever featured. That race provided a stunning upset, as well, when locally-based Researcher (running for $360,000 as a Grade III winner) carried off the victory for trainer Jeff Runco and late owner Hermen Greenberg.
A year later, Researcher beat another stacked field in the 1 1/8-mile test for Runco and his new owners, the Kinross Corporation. That year, the track did away with the tier-purse structure and made it even $1 million to win.
The graded status comes to Charles Town after seventy-seven years of operation and nearly 100,000 races.