Many folks in the mid-Atlantic are happy that it’s raining and not snowing in Pennsylvania for Saturday’s Grade I Charles Town Classic, but the moisture in the track will lead to a “good” track condition rather than fast. A full field of fourteen will go to the post and make the mile and and eighth trek.
(1) VIANNEY (owner mtkgrs1, 16/1) is looking to finally punch through and get his first win against older horses, having failed in his last three starts. After winning 7 of his first 10 starts, he finished 14th out of 20 in the Breeders’ Bowl Classic. Three weeks later, he had a nice bounce back race in the Grade I Sterile Mile, where he finished fourth and just one length back. After a couple of months off, he led much of the way in a time-restricted allowance race last time out, but faded to finish sixth. This is a horse that had plenty of success last year, including two graded stakes wins. However, I want to see him prove that he can hold his weight with older horses before I take a shot on him.
(2) HAVE NEW DOUBTS (owner zia3, 9/1) had a nice stretch of races to wrap up 2017, rattling off four wins in a row, including the Grade II Lewis & Clark Stakes in November, where he pulled away by over two lengths and threw up an eye-catching SP number of 120. He then put up a nice effort in a Grade I race back in December, but couldn’t make up the final few lengths and finished fourth. His first start of 2018 was in the Equinics, where he faded to eighth. He is looking to return to his winning ways in this race, and I think he may be due for a step up in form, which would put him in contention. I’m not sure it will be quite enough for the win, but it can’t be ruled out give some of his past performances.
(3) ZIP FILE (owner italst5, 5/1) is still searching for that first graded stakes victory, but will go off as the favorite in this race, and for good reason. The son of City Zip has racked up three SP numbers of 120 or higher, two of those were on off tracks like today. His best SP number was a 122 in an ungraded stakes race last summer over a sloppy track. He finished second in the Group I Japan Dirt Cup back in December to NUKA DEATHMARCH, who just had a monster performance in the Sand Castle Classic in Dubai two weeks ago. ZIP FILE was not as successful in Dubai, finishing sixth in a Group II race last time out. That being said, I think he’ll be a force to be reckoned with here, especially since he’s been the most successful in this field on a wet track.
(4) WHISPERING MO (owner masterm, 10/1) is fresh off an open-length victory in the Grade II Saints Handicap at Louisiana last time out, which was at Saturday’s 9-furlong distance. He has held his own against older horses in the past two starts, with that win last time out preceded by a pretty close fifth in another Grade II race in January, which was at 9.5 furlongs. He seems to like this distance, winning 4 out of 5 career races at 9 furlongs, and his recent form shows that he is good enough to keep up with the horses in this field. I expect this well-bred son of Uncle Mo to run a solid race and be close to the leaders by the end.
(5) MIGHTY TO SAVE (owner mtkclassics, 19/1) leaves the Bayou State for the first time since last summer to come to Pennsylvania for this race. His last five starts all came in Louisiana, mostly in allowance races. He did have some success last year in graded stakes races, including a third-place finish in a Grade III race and a second-place finish in a Grade II. While in Louisiana, though, he finished off the board in the LA Derby and an ungraded stakes race later in the year. He has tried two NW5L allowance races in 2018, but has not found the winner’s circle. There are some very good horses in this field, and right now he seems to be a cut below those. I’ll wait and see how this race goes.
(6) MY CAT’S REWARD (owner squity, 29/1) has been struggling of late, and has not hit the board in just over a year, when he won a Grade II race in Delaware. After that win, he raced in the final two legs of the Triple Crown, and finished close to midpack in both. The results didn’t get much better in the next few graded stakes starts, generally finishing near the middle or in the bottom half of the field. Last time out, he returned to the allowance ranks, but could still only muster a fourth-place finish. Given the recent struggles, I doubt the jump in class will be helpful, and I suspect he won’t be able to keep up with the top flight horses in this field.
(7) THE SUMMER MAN (owner mtkmojo, 8/1) has been pretty successful in the ungraded stakes ranks of late, and is looking to translate that over to the graded stakes ranks. This is just the third graded stakes for the 5-year-old, the first of which was a second-place effort in a Grade II last summer. The second was a ninth-place finish in the Grade I Glenn Kegasus Tradition Killer, which was a stacked field of some of the best older dirt horses in the Sim. This field is not as deep as that one was, so I think this is a pretty good spot for him. His consistency recently makes me think he is ready to take a step up here, and he broke his maiden on an off track, so he could contend for the win.
(8) COWARD’S PUNCH (owner markbohy, 9/1) looked good coming into this race last year, but failed to fire and finished toward the back of the field. He did regain his form later in the year, winning the Grade I Hit Me Handicap with an SP number of 120, and then finishing a solid third in the Breeders’ Bowl Dirt Mile back in November. His most recent race was in February, and it was an open-length victory in the Group III Khartoum Challenge II at Dubai. That was on an off-track, which should translate well into today’s race. My question is how good that field was, as most of the horses that finished behind COWARD’S PUNCH have had a bad race after that Dubai race. I’m not totally sure what to do with him, but he has the talent to contend.
(9) WICKEDSENSEOFHUMOR (owner asrstar5, 14/1) has really turned on the jets in his past few starts, winning two in a row and posting a career-best SP number of 119 while winning the Grade II Scrub in February, which was for 4-year-olds. So, it was pretty much a race for the 3-year-old class of last year, so this will be one of his first tests against older horses. Also worth noting is that most of the horses behind him in the Scrub have not hit the board in their subsequent race. That being said, it certainly was a good effort. While the quality of that last race may be in question, this distance seems to suit him perfectly, and he has a decent shot at making some noise here.
(10) GIANT INDY (owner gunners6, 6/1) has won 13 out of 24 lifetime starts and is looking for his second graded stakes victory. Like WICKEDSENSEOFHUMOR, he has won two in a row coming into this and has looked pretty good while doing it. He won a Grade II race two back in Michigan, and then came here to Pennsylvania and won an open allowance race by a length. He has only missed the board once in the past year and he appears to be in very good form of late. The well-bred son of Giant’s Causeway seems to handle this distance very well. The question is how he will handle the off going, since he has never faced one in his 24 career starts. I suspect he’ll take to it well enough to be in the conversation.
(11) TIZ MAX (owner deelynette, 26/1) is looking to turn things around after a trio of rough starts coming into this race. Last year’s Eddie Haskell winner has struggled since then, finishing fifth in the Group I Westward at Dubai last August. His first race against older horses in a Grade II was solid, as he finished second. Since then, though, he has finished no better than twelfth in the following three starts. His best starts seem to be in the mid-Atlantic, so he is returning to a part of the world where he seems to love to race. Absence of a significant turnaround to last summer’s form, the task ahead for TIZ MAX seems difficult, and he could struggle again in this race, like he has in his most recent starts.
(12) DEVIL’S DARE (owner jungleboy, 5/1) is the lone gelding in the race, as well as the co-favorite. This will be career start number 27 for the 6-year-old, but he has been racing very well recently, hitting the board in four straight graded stakes races. He finished seventh in this race last year, but has come on strong in the past several months. He finished third in two Grade Is, including the Glenn Kegasus Tradition Killer back in January. Last month, he won the Grade III Razorback Cup by nearly two lengths. He is one of the more consistent horses in the field, and also has a start on an off track, which resulted in a third-place finish in a Local Championship Stakes in 2015. He will be one to watch.
(13) HAND OF THE DEVIL (owner davarto2, 8/1) has been racing at a high level since late last fall, although hit a bit of a snag last time out. After a win in the Grade III Apple Pie, he finished a solid second in front of DEVIL’S DARE in the Glenn Kegasus. Last time out, though, he never really fired and finished a beaten sixth in the Grade II Saints Handicap at Louisiana. I guess that shouldn’t be a total shock given the three great races leading up to that race. He has done well at this 9-furlong distance. I think he will be able to bounce back in this race despite the outside post. If he does bounce back, that will put him right up with the top horses in this field.
(14) BLAME MISCHIEF (owner bigzac, 18/1) is another one in here that had a great 3-year-old campaign, but has struggled to find his footing against older horses. He was a two-time Grade I winner last year, racking up the Clerk of Scales Stakes and the Travelers Stakes as well. He finished around midpack in the Jockey Guild Gold Cup and the Breeders’ Bowl Classic late in the year. After a long layoff, he did put together a nice effort to finish third in a Grade II. Last time out, he faded to finish eleventh in the Grade I California Handicap. That race two back shows that he can compete with these older horses. This is a tough bunch, though, and I’m not quite sure he’ll have enough to get toward the top.
(3) ZIP FILE, 5/1 – Seems to handle an off track very well, and has been ultra-consistent if you throw out that last start. If he starts a little closer to the lead this time, he should hit the board.
(4) WHISPERING MO, 10/1 – Coming off a great win down in Louisiana where he held on despite a brisk early pace. Has shown he can compete with the older horses. Can he show he can compete on the G1 level?
(12) DEVIL’S DARE, 5/1 – That was a nice win in his last race, and he has hit the board in four straight graded stakes races.
(10) GIANT INDY, 6/1 – Ran a nice race over this surface last time out and probably has the ability to win this. There could be a lot of competition for the lead, though, so he may the victim of a fast early pace.
Good luck to everyone!