By Jeff Nations
MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Game On Dude was part of a bit of history in the making on Tuesday.
Trainer Bob Baffert hopes the celebrated six-year-old horse has a lot more history to make in Saturday's $1.5 million Charles Town Classic at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races.
Shepherded by Baffert's assistant trainer, Jim Barnes, Game On Dude was among a four-horse contingent flown in via charter jet to Martinsburg's Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport on Tuesday afternoon. It is the first time thoroughbreds have ever been directly flown to Martinsburg to run at nearby Charles Town, a track about 10 miles to the east.
"You could tell at the airport that a lot of people wanted to come out and see it," said Erich Zimny, Charles Town's Vice President of Racing Operations. "I think the excitement you saw there could be amped up ten-fold on Saturday."
Saturday's headline feature race, the fifth annual Charles Town Classic (G2), has skyrocketed to rank among the nation's top races. It is the richest thoroughbred race contested in the U.S., other than the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders' Cup World Championships, and among handicap division races only the Dubai World Cup, the Breeders' Cup Classic and three races in Japan offer more money to its participants. In the 1 1/8-mile Classic, the winner will take home $1 million of that total $1.5 million purse.
That money draws horses like Game On Dude, arguably the top thoroughbred in the country at present. In his last start, Game On Dude demolished his rivals with a record-setting 7 ¾-length victory in the Santa Anita Handicap. One of his fellow passengers on Tuesday's cross-country flight, the Craig Lewis-trained five-year-old Clubhouse Ride, finished second to Game On Dude at Santa Anita and will try again Saturday. Final entries for Saturday's race are scheduled to be announced today.
"We fully expect Game On Dude and Clubhouse Ride to be among the entries," Zimny said.
Also aboard Tuesday's flight was the Baffert-trained mare Book Review, which is slated to run in Saturday's $200,000 Sugar Maple Stakes. That race, for fillies and mares ages four and up, will be run over seven furlongs.
In all, the Charles Town Classic features a six-stakes race card.
Those five will serve as an appetizer for Saturday night's main course.
"There's a lot of buzz about it, as there should be," Zimny said. "It's huge to host a race of this significance. We have the top three finishers at Santa Anita (third-place finisher Called to Serve is also nominated) among the nominees. That's three of the top horses in the country.
"If the weather holds up Saturday, we expect to see a significant crowd at the track."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>