By Jeff Nations - firstname.lastname@example.org
Defending champion Duke of Mischief is back to try and close the deal once more in Saturday's fourth running of the $1 million Charles Town Classic.
Duke of Mischief, which swung wide to the outside under jockey Joey Bravo before the final turn to best a strong field in last year's Classic at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, might not have to contend with the slop of a muddy track on Saturday but another formidable field awaits the 6-year-old chestnut horse. With the Classic elevated to Grade 2 status for the first time, just one year after debuting as a Grade 3 race (Charles Town's first-ever graded stakes race), the 10-horse field is again loaded with speed for the 1 1/8-mile, three-turn Classic. Each of the 10 runners is a graded stakes winner, with a total of 20 graded stakes wins among them.
Trained by David Fawkes, Duke of Mischief hasn't placed in two starts this year. Still, Fawkes remains confident heading into Saturday's race.
"He kind of got off his game a little bit and lost interest over the year, but I worked him with [top sprinter] Apriority, and he had some dynamite works," Fawkes said in a news release. "[Jockey Joey] Bravo said he wasn't himself, but the last two works he was really happy with him.
"I'm very confident. I think the horse is doing really well right now. He would have been a great bull ring horse."
If speed is a premium at Charles Town, Florida-based Tackleberry could once more be a major factor. The 5-year-old gelding, owned and trained by Luis Olivares, is an accomplished and versatile runner. Tackleberry is also back for a second shot at the Classic. This time, Olivares said, Tackleberry is "a much fresher horse" heading to Charles Town.
"The horse doesn't have to be in the lead," Olivares said. "I ran him one time at Calder off the pace, and he came back and won the race easy. If he goes too fast up front, it won't be good for him. He can lay second or third. If nobody wants the lead, he'll take the lead."
Redding Colliery, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, is another tough sprinter who's scores include winning the 2010 Grade 2 Hawthorne Gold Cup.
Former Triple Crown runner Pants on Fire, winner of last year's Louisiana Derby as a 3-year-old, will bring regular rider Anna Rose Napravnik to Charles Town. The multiple graded stakes winner is trained by Kelly Breen.
Another former Triple Crown trail veteran, Tres Borrachos, lead a West Coast contingent heading to Charles Town. Charles Town-based jockey Kendrick Carmouche will ride for trainer Martin F. Jones. Also among that West Coast group is Uh Oh Bango, which won the Grade 2 San Pasqual earlier this year. Santa Anita-based Norvsky won the Grade 2 San Gabriel on the turf earlier this year. Skipshot, trained by Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, will have the advantage of a jockey with plenty of experience in the irons as Charles Town regular Travis Dunkelberger has the mount.
The aptly-named Mister Marti Gras also headed north from his base in New Orleans for a run at the Classic. Trained by Neil Pessin, the 5-year-old gelding won two stakes races last year.
Trainer Todd Pletcher's Caixa Eletronica, claimed last year for $62,500 by owner Mike Repole, won a six-furlong sprint carry 127 pounds at Saratoga last year and added a victory over 1 1/8 miles under 131 pounds. He'll carry 116 pounds at Charles Town.
"We're intrigued by the race and the horse is doing really well at the moment," Pletcher said.
The Charles Town Classic (post time 10:30 p.m.) is the feature on a busy stakes day at the track, which also includes the running of the $200,000 Sugar Maple (seven furlongs, for fillies and mares age 4 and up) and the $250,000 Robert Hilton Memorial (seven furlongs for 3-year-olds).
Saturday will also feature the $55,000 championship race in the Charles Town Starter Tournament, as trainer Scooter Davis sends four entries out to contend for the victory. Two-time West Virginia Breeders' Classic winner Russell Road opens his 6-year-old campaign seeking his 15th stakes win in the $50,000 Confucius Say stakes. Russell Road, trained by longtime Charles Town conditioner Jim Casey and owned by Winchester's Mark Russell, has won 11 of 16 career starts at Charles Town.
Saturday's first race post time is 5 p.m.