By Jeff Nations
Sandra Dono isn't crazy, let's be clear about that.
The Brooklyn-born trainer of 5-year-old gelding Lucy's Bob Boy would never think of tackling the likes of Game on Dude in the sunny environs of Santa Anita or Hollywood Park out in California, or even the well-tread dirt at Churchill Downs in Kentucky.
But Charles Town? Bring it on, Dude.
"Where else you gonna to run for a million and a half in your own backyard?," Dono said. "Don't get me wrong -- these horses are all tough. [Lucy's Bob Boy] really likes this track. He hits these turns and when other horses are slowing down, he's speeding up."
Lucy's Bob Boy, the West Virginia-bred track superstar, gets his shot at the big time in tonight's $1.5 million Charles Town Classic (Grade 2) at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races. When Dono says the horse she conditions for owner Michael Furr likes Charles Town, she isn't kidding -- in 21 lifetime starts at the track, he's won 17 and finished second three other times. If ever there was a horse for a course, Lucy's Bob Boy seems made for Charles Town.
It's not just chance, according to Dono. The late Robert W. Furr, the man who bred his Not For Love-sired mare Love for Lucy to Kentucky-based sire Flatter, set out to create the ideal horse to run on the tight three-turn "bullring" at Charles Town.
"When Mr. Furr bred this horse, he wasn't an accident," Dono said. "He was very, very proud of this horse. He thought he would be a perfect cross for this track, that's why he wanted to keep him here. He knew he had something special."
That much was evident as Lucy's Bob Boy's 2-year-old campaign, when the chestnut gelding won both starts at Charles Town including the Henry Mercer Memorial Stakes. His 3-year-old campaign saw more stakes wins at Charles Town, then the shocker -- taking on an older field headlined by reigning track heavyweight Russell Road, Lucy's Bob Boy humbled the field for a dazzling victory in the West Virginia Breeders' Classic.
He didn't slow down in his 4-year-old season, which included a spot on the 2013 Charles Town Classic in the Confucius Say Stakes. Lucy's Bob Boy crushed his state-bred competition in that race by five lengths, prompting many to wonder why his connections had passed on the track's invitation to run in the Classic last year.
"We would have liked to have done it last year, but he wasn't ready," Dono said. "We were a little more iffy."
The Bob Baffert-trained Game on Dude, currently rated No. 1 in the Longines World's Best Racehorse Rankings, won last year's 1 1/8-mile Classic in his second attempt at the race by prevailing in a riveting duel with longtime rival Clubhouse Ride over the final quarter-mile to win by a half-length. Clubhouse Ride is back for another shot at the Classic, too, along with four other horses looking to cash in on one of the nation's most lucrative races.
Game on Dude has the Hall of Fame connections -- trainer Baffert, jockey Mike Smith and part-owner Joe Torre of baseball fame. Little wonder, then, that he's a prohibitive favorite with 4-5 odds on the opening line.
Lucy's Bob Boy will have his backers, no doubt. Jockey Arnaldo Bocachica, who took over riding duties after last year's disastrous effort in the West Virginia Breeders' Classic, has plans to get married next week in New York and will have a large contingent of family at the track.
"This could be a wedding present for him," Dono said.
Last year's West Virginia Breeders' Classic is the only real blemish on Lucy's Bob Boy's record at Charles Town, a ninth-place effort brought on by an unwise speed duel at the front with Russell Road when Dono's horse was running on a tender foot (an abscess was soon discovered). He bounced back to easily win the A Huevo Stakes at Charles Town less than a month later, then had a lackluster effort in just his second try among open company at Laurel Park.
In his season debut during a March 29 allowance at Charles Town, Lucy's Bob Boy showed that familiar form once more with a dazzling 8 ½-length victory in 1:18.08 over 6 ½ furlongs.
It was enough to convince Dono and Furr that their horse is indeed ready to take a shot at the big money.
"He always shows up and tries," Dono said. "I don't know if he'll want to go to the front or go to the back and stalk or just stay back a little bit -- we haven't really talked too much about it. When the gate opens, everything can change. I trust Boca. He's going to be the one on the horse.
"He's never really shown the best he's got. Even the races he's won here at Charles Town have been pretty easy. Charles Town is a great place with this horse and with this purse to try it."
Racing begins at 5 p.m. for the 14-race Charles Town Classic card. Post time for the Classic, the 12th race of the night, is 10:30 p.m.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>