Posted October 23, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

Nations: Finding a sure thing at the races

Jeff Nations

By Jeff Nations

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- Jax and Jill made certain there wouldn't be any bridge jumping taking place on Saturday night.

The two-year-old filly, the overwhelming favorite in Saturday's West Virginia Triple Crown Nutrition Breeders' Classic Stakes at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, had some pretty serious backers heading into her race during the annual West Virginia Breeders' Classic race card at Charles Town.

The WPS (Win Place Show) pool for Jax and Jill's race, a 4 1/2-furlong sprint for West Virginia-bred two-year-old fillies, spiked fantastically as the horses headed to the starting gate. At post time, the WPS pool was $187,268 for the Nutrition Breeders' Classic. By comparison, the next highest WPS pool Saturday night -- for the headlining $500,000 West Virginia Breeders' Classic Stakes -- was only $52,469.

That meant the favorite for the Nutrition -- in this case, the 1-9 choice Jax and Jill -- was such an overwhelming choice to at least place that bettors were looking at collecting only the state-mandated $2.20 on a $2 bet to win, place or show. That's a 20-cent profit on a $2 bet, but in the case of a bridge jumper -- often an off-track bettor -- the wager is much more than that minimum for a shot at 10 cents on the dollar.

They're called "bridge jumpers" for a reason -- if that sure thing doesn't come through, that go-for-broke bet often leads to just that. And in horse racing, there is no such thing as a sure thing. Horses have bad trips, stumbles at the start, injuries -- sometimes they just don't feel like running on that particular day or night.

Except on Saturday, Jax and Jill was a sure thing. The Scott Lake-trained filly posted a blistering tie of 51.17 seconds on a fast track to win by 5 1/2 lengths in what was undoubtedly the most impressive performance of the night at Charles Town.

Owned by Robert L. Cole, Jr. -- recently in the news as the owner of the amazingly resilient starter-allowance runner Rapid Redux -- has turned up another true gem in Jax and Jill. This horse has the promise of much more than Rapid Redux, king of the cheap races who rattled off an amazing 19 straight wins last year (22 straight overall) and earned a Special Eclipse Award in January.

Jax and Jill, now 4-for-4 in her fledging career, looks every bit a graded-stakes runner. That's rare enough, but even moreso for a West Virginia-bred.

One of the few who has run among graded-stakes company from the Mountaineer State is Russell Road, who was also back in action Saturday as he tried to defend his title in the West Virginia Breeders' Classic and become only the second horse (Confucius Say was the first) to win that race three times.

It didn't happen, as another youngster upstaged the venerable 6-year-old gelding. Lucy's Bob Boy, at age 3 the youngest horse in the field, produced a dazzling eight-length win in 1:51.06 over the 1 1/8-mile distance under jockey Gustavo Larrosa to claim the victory for trainer Sandra Dono and owner Michael Furr.

It was the first try at that 1 1/8-mile distance for Lucy's Bob Boy, but the home-bred son of Flatter had plenty left in the tank for a stretch drive to win going away.

Russell Road, trained by the accomplished James W. Casey and owned by Winchester's Mark Russell, settled for second on a night that belonged to up-and-comers. Most likely, though, Russell Road -- one of just three West Virginia-breds to have surpassed $1 million in career earnings -- will be back for another shot that the Breeders' Classic next year.

It wasn't all disappointment for the Casey family on Saturday -- in the $250,000 West Virginia Jefferson Security Bank Cavada Breeders' Classic, the 5-year-old bay mare Down Town Allen tallied a commanding 7 1/4-length victory over seven furlongs in 1:25.85 under jockey Mathew McGowan. That horse was bred and is owned and trained by John A. Casey -- James Casey's son -- and sired by James Casey's Taylor Mountain Farms stallion Windsor Castle.

James Casey also had his own winner, although his horse never actually visited the winner's circle. In the $85,000 West Virginia Thoroughbred Breeders Association Onion Juice Breeders' Classic, Casey's gelding Waves and Tides initially came up short by a nose to Golden Set. When that horse was disqualified and moved to third for making repeated contact with Waves and Tides down the stretch, it made Casey's horse the winner.

Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or jnations@nvdaily.com>

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