The Dude Returns to Charles Town

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman")

There’s something for everyone in the world of racing this weekend. If you’re a fan of the older horse division—with its aging, but still incredibly talented cast of characters—you won’t want to miss Game On Dude against Clubhouse Ride, Long River, Moreno, and others in the Charles Town Classic (gr. II) at . If you’re looking for some three-year-olds to tide you over until the Derby, be sure to check out the Coolmore Lexington Stakes (gr. III) at Keeneland and the Illinois Derby (gr. II) at Hawthorne, both of which have drawn intriguing fields of talented young horses. And if you enjoyed the exploits of last year’s stellar three-year-old fillies, you’ll be glad to know that Beholder is back in action on Sunday in the Santa Lucia Stakes at Santa Anita Park.

I’ll be discussing these races and many others, as well as recent Kentucky Derby developments, in the comments section of this post. I hope you’ll join me! But for the moment, let’s take a quick look at the Lexington and the Charles Town Classic…

Charles Town Classic (gr. II)

After years of lamenting the fact that the stars of horse racing retire much too soon, it has been a breath of fresh air for me to see Game On Dude compete with such success year after year. His victory in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) last month—his third overall in that historic race—marked the fifth consecutive season in which he has won a graded stakes, and the fourth consecutive in which he has won a grade I.

On paper, Game On Dude towers over his six rivals in the Charles Town Classic, a race he won last year by a half-length over Clubhouse Ride. It wasn’t Game On Dude’s most impressive victory by any means, but it’s important to remember that Game On Dude wore glue-on shoes without toe grabs last year, and had some difficulty handling the track. This year, he will be equipped with his regular shoes, and that should help him run his "A+" race on Saturday instead of his "B+" race.

If there’s one chink in Game On Dude’s armor, it’s the presence of Moreno, Ruler of Love, and Lucy’s Bob Boy, a trio of speedy contenders that could possibly engage Game On Dude in a battle for the early lead. If the pace were to get too hot, it could set things up for Long River, who ran a strong race when second by a neck in the Excelsior Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct last month. Clubhouse Ride also warrants a close look, for even though he hasn’t been in the best of form this year, he does have proven form at Charles Town, which is an important asset given the three-turn configuration of the race.

Selection: Game On Dude

Lexington Stakes (gr. III)

Given that the Lexington is the last of the official Kentucky Derby prep races, it’s a bit disappointing to see it fail to draw any of the serious Kentucky Derby contenders. But even though it probably won’t have an impact on the Derby, the Lexington has still drawn a deep field of eleven three-year-old colts, and the race looks perfect for those who embrace a good handicapping challenge.

In my last two Unlocking Winners blog posts, I selected the talented turf horses Testa Rossi and Bobby’s Kitten to win the Ashland Stakes (gr. I) and Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I), respectively, and subsequently watched them fail to handle Keeneland’s Polytrack and finish well behind horses with proven affinity for synthetic tracks. With that in mind, I have decided to pick Supermonic to win the Lexington Stakes. The Todd Pletcher-trainee lost his first three starts, but has since won two straight, including an 8.5-furlong allowance race over the Keeneland Polytrack on April 13th. In that race, he set slow fractions of :49.26 and 1:14.54, but followed that up with a final five-sixteenths in :30.07, which enabled him to draw clear and score by 7 ½ lengths. The short turnaround is a valid concern, but don’t forget that Pletcher brought Winning Cause back on two weeks of rest to win the 2013 Lexington, so I’m not too worried.

Solitary Ranger and Poker Player both ran poorly last time out when ninth and tenth, respectively, in the Spiral Stakes (gr. III) at Turfway Park, but both colts are graded stakes winners on Polytrack and could rebound sharply on Saturday. I will also have my eye on Ami’s Holiday, winner of the Grey Stakes (gr. III) at Woodbine last October. The Lexington will mark his seasonal debut, so he may not be 100% fit, but a victory would place him 21st on the Kentucky Derby points list—possibly enough to get him into the field.

Selection: Supermonic

Who do you like this weekend?


Leave a Comment:


In celebration of the strong race card being held on Saturday at Charles Town, I'd like to invite you all to join me in a "Charles Town Challenge" handicapping contest! All you have to do is select one horse to finish third or better in each of the six stakes races being held at Charles Town. If your horse succeeds in cracking the trifecta in the first race of the contest, you will advance to the second race. If your horse finishes out of the top three, then you're out, and the rest of your selections won't count. This will repeat through each of the remaining contest races, with the winner being whoever can pick the most consecutive trifecta-hitters without a miss! There won't be a prize, just bragging rights. :)

In the event that two or more players both survive through the same number of races, the aggregate show payoffs of each player's selections shall act as a tie-breaker.

Here are the six contest races:

Race 7 - Webb Snyder Charles Town Dash Stakes

Race 8 - Original Gold Stakes

Race 9 - Confucius Say Stakes

Race 10 - Robert Hilton Memorial Stakes

Race 11 - Sugar Maple Stakes

Race 12 - Charles Town Classic Stakes

Good luck!

17 Apr 2014 3:07 PM

A number of Kentucky Derby-related jockey assignments have been announced during the last few days, so I thought I would post a list of them in case anyone missed any:

Hoppertunity - Mike Smith

Intense Holiday - John Velazquez

Wildcat Red - Rafael Bejarano

Ride On Curlin - Calvin Borel

Tapiture - Ricardo Santana, Jr.

General a Rod - Joel Rosario

Medal Count - Robby Albarado

Candy Boy - Gary Stevens

Cairo Prince - Luis Saez

Commanding Curve - Shaun Bridgmohan

Prominent jockeys still searching for mounts include Javier Castellano, Julien Leparoux, Joe Talamo, and Jose Lezcano.

17 Apr 2014 5:08 PM
Rusty Weisner

Last year I tried Clubhouse Ride for a few bucks in this race, because of his affinity for bullring tracks.  Charles Town is in my neck of the woods and I caught a few races there on a couple of occasions last spring and summer, including seeing Lucy's Bob Boy win by something like 15 lengths at 1-9.  I won't be going, or betting, tomorrow.    

18 Apr 2014 8:34 AM

It has been announced that Uncle Sigh will wear blinkers for the first time in the Kentucky Derby, and that he will be ridden in the Run for the Roses by Irad Ortiz, Jr.:

18 Apr 2014 12:47 PM

BREAKING NEWS: It was announced this morning that Blue Grass Stakes winner Dance With Fate, who had been considered unlikely for the Kentucky Derby, will start in the Derby after all.

18 Apr 2014 12:54 PM

Commanding Curve, who is on the bubble to make the Kentucky Derby field, breezed five furlongs in company with Golden Soul at Churchill Downs this morning, getting the distance in 1:00 2/5.

18 Apr 2014 1:11 PM
Little Bill

Lexington- I followed Divine Oath into this race as a huge contender and that remains my thought. However, I did decide to play Ride Away on top. An improvement off last would not be too shocking. I also like Z Lucky to close into the mix.

I have a question about the auction history on Z Lucky's profile. It says no history. Does that mean they did not take it to a sale or there was no reserve or bidders. By the way, his profile is a kaleidoscope of inbreeding, some I've not seen.

18 Apr 2014 1:13 PM

In other workout news, Santa Anita Derby runner-up Hoppertunity breezed five furlongs in 1:00 1/5 at Santa Anita this morning. The bullet time for the distance was :59 2/5, recorded by both the Doug O'Neill-trained three-year-old Frensham and Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) winner Ria Antonia.

18 Apr 2014 1:15 PM
Little Bill

Today Kee 9) I like Gold Medal Dancer. I can't imagine this one not being more effective on syn and turf. She was not a bad 3yo, 2nd tier in her class.

18 Apr 2014 1:21 PM

Little Bill;

Since Zayat Stables is listed as both breeder and owner of Z Lucky, my guess would be that Z Lucky was never offered at auction.

I took a look at his pedigree, and I have to agree that there's no better way to describe it than as a kaleidoscope of inbreeding! Thanks for pointing it out!

18 Apr 2014 1:40 PM
Little Bill

Keelerman, I'm guessing because he wasn't ready or right since they offered him up for 30,000.

18 Apr 2014 2:12 PM
Rusty Weisner

A betting buddy of mine will be making the races at Charles Town.  Much as I would love to go and be with all the blasphemers, Easter family obligations will keep me away.  Though maybe I'll have him place a bet or two for me!  His comment was: How can you go against GOD on Easter?

18 Apr 2014 6:36 PM
Forbidden Apple

C. Town Classic: I'm hoping for a pace meltdown, leaving the outside of the track open for long River to come grinding by.

Ben Ali: I'm going with another grinder on top. Norumbega should go off around 5-1 and he'll be sharper than his first out try in 2014. His most recent work went in 47, look out. Daily Double w/ Mr. Speaker and an exacta box w/Newsdad.

Lexington: Mr. Speaker is a game horse that just missed last time. I think he's worth a win bet at 3-1 or even at 5/2.

I like Dance With Fate, but he has never run fast and he hung badly in the El Camino Real. This seems like a case where the owner has KY Derby fever. Just last week the trainer stated that the horse was better on turf and poly. He is a gorgeous horse that appears to be improving slowly. I still don't know how he got beat against Tamarando at Golden Gate.

18 Apr 2014 11:08 PM
Plod Boy Phil

I'll play Solitary Ranger to wire them in the Lexington.

19 Apr 2014 11:37 AM
Pedigree Ann

Don't know or care much about racing at Charles Town, just hope everybody comes back safe and sound.

Any thoughts on the two 'un-Derby' preps this weekend? Can Midnight Hawk coast for 9f on his supposed superior class, or does he back up like he did in SoCal and NM? Look for him in the Woody S. or King's Bishop later this year in any case.

Great race by It's a Dundeel(NZ) at Randwick in the QE last night; he just took a few races to get fit 'this preparation', as they say Down Under. Beat the horses who had beaten him this fall - Silent Achiever(NZ), the filly who had won two of the preps (4th), The Queen's horse Carlton House (3rd), and Boban (by Bernardini), who displayed in his first 10f attempt that he is a fine miler and nothing more.

Aussies just don't breed for some of their races. In the 2-mile G1 Sydney Cup, the first two home were Irish-breds, while in the 12f Oaks, Kiwi (NZ) misses filled first and third, with the second being another by Bernardini. Down in Melbourne, the 10f Easter Cup (G3), went to a GB-import, with an Ire second. Used to be, the Aussies got all their stayers from New Zealand, but with air transport so improved today, they can get some from Europe as easily and cheaply; stayers aren't as respected as they used to be up there and the high-rollers of Hong Kong and Singapore buy up the cream of the relatively small New Zealand crops these days.

19 Apr 2014 11:51 AM
Plod Boy Phil

Just a thought, but if you were Game on Dude and just ran your eyes out against the best in the land, would you really have any desire to fly across the country to run around in circles at CT ?

19 Apr 2014 11:58 AM


Just a few minutes ago, it was reported Cairo Prince is out the Derby.

19 Apr 2014 12:14 PM


Thanks for the notice! I see that he injured his left front ankle. That's really sad. :(

This moves Vinceremos into the twentieth position on the Kentucky Derby points list, followed by Harry's Holiday and Commanding Curve. But Vinceremos is not yet definite for the Derby; Todd Pletcher has said he wants to see how Vinceremos trains at Churchill before making a decision.

19 Apr 2014 12:39 PM

Dynamic Impact and Global Strike, cross-entered in both the Lexington Stakes (gr. III) and Illinois Derby (gr. III), have been scratched from the Lexington and will run at Hawthorne. Morning Calm has also scratched from the Lexington, leaving the race with a field of eight.

19 Apr 2014 12:44 PM

Keelerman; I am wondering what Westpoint T/B will do if Commanding Curve gets in, will they run both him and Ring Weekend, or just run one of them?

19 Apr 2014 12:52 PM

Pedigree Ann;

I've been asking myself the same question about Midnight Hawk, and I think that Dynamic Impact has a shot to beat him. I liked his maiden victory at Oaklawn last month, in which he won by a determined neck over Knock Em Flat, subsequent runner-up in the Northern Spur Stakes.

Also, keeping in mind that the maiden Zoebear was able to finish second in the 2011 Illinois Derby, I think that Irish You Well -- also a maiden -- might have a shot to hit the board this afternoon. He's shown himself to be a consistent sort while competing in maiden special weights at Fair Grounds this winter, and I like that Wayne Catalano had the confidence to ship him in for this race.

Thanks for sharing the results of the Australian races!

19 Apr 2014 1:06 PM


Last I heard, West Point Thoroughbreds intends to run both Ring Weekend and Commanding Curve if they both get in, but that they might not enter Ring Weekend if it would allow Commanding Curve to draw into the race.

19 Apr 2014 1:07 PM

In case anyone missed any, here's a quick rundown of this morning's Kentucky Derby-related workouts:

Vicar's in Trouble: 5f in 1:00 2/5 over the Churchill Downs Training Track. He went in company with Saffrom Hall.

Candy Boy: 5f in a bullet :59 4/5 at Santa Anita Park.

California Chrome: 4f in :47 4/5 at Los Alamitos.

19 Apr 2014 1:45 PM
Rusty Weisner

Commanding Curve and Golden Soul -- portentous?

Plod Boy Phil,

I'm going to bet no.  Maybe Clubhouse Ride again in exactas with some non-GOD horses.  I haven't looked at pp's yet.  I'm curious what to make of Moreno after missing his last out.

Forbidden Apple,

I don't like the plodder to close on this track.

19 Apr 2014 2:16 PM
Rusty Weisner

Forbidden Apple,

After a quick peek at the pp's I actually like Long River.  $2 boxed exactas with him, Clubhouse Ride, Moreno, another $4 box Long River/Clubhouse Ride.

19 Apr 2014 2:35 PM
Rusty Weisner

Don't they get jetlag running at 10:30 EST?

19 Apr 2014 2:41 PM
Rusty Weisner

I was starting to like Cairo Prince and had him in my top 5 despite misgivings.  At least I'll have fewer misgivings betting the Derby now.

19 Apr 2014 2:42 PM

Rusty Weisner;

That's interesting -- I was starting to like the chances of Cairo Prince as well. Hopefully, he'll be back in good form by summer.

19 Apr 2014 3:41 PM
Rusty Weisner


I was utterly dismissive of Dance With Fate as a Derby prospect until I looked at the pp's again.  He actually had good dirt form.  I'm inclined to think running him is a case of overexuberance, but I'll have to give him at least some consideration.

Where are you based, by the way?

19 Apr 2014 5:05 PM
Rusty Weisner

Charles Town contest.

R7:  Immortal Eyes

...and give me the listed ML favorite in every race after that.

I love the concept of the two-turn 7f race, by the way.  If they were ponies it might be easier to handicap using traditional methods.  

19 Apr 2014 5:18 PM

Rusty Weisner;

Thanks for joining the contest! Here are my selections:

Race 7: Immortal Eyes

Race 8: Down Town Allen

Race 9: Wise Mac

Race 10: Rise Up

Race 11: Quiet Success

Race 12: Game On Dude

I'm based in Wisconsin, where spring is finally starting to show itself after a winter with more snowfall than any other winter in recorded history. Needless to say, it's nice to see the ground again! :)

19 Apr 2014 6:16 PM
Rusty Weisner

Actually, give me the immortal Immortal Eyes and every ML favorite until the big race: then give me Clubhouse Ride.

19 Apr 2014 6:17 PM

There have been plenty of interesting race results so far today! At Keeneland, Frac Daddy was very impressive while dominating the Ben Ali Stakes (gr. III) by almost five lengths, clocking his final three-eighths in a sharp :36.09 en route to a final time of 1:49.61. Stealcase put in a mild run to finish second over Nikki's Sandcastle, but never threatened the winner.

One race later, Mr. Speaker demonstrated an eye-catching turn-of-foot to blow past pacesetters Solitary Ranger and Supermonic and win by four lengths in 1:44.18 seconds. Divine Oath, who was off a step slowly, rallied to edge Supermonic for second by a head, with Ami's Holiday another three-quarters of a length back in fourth.

At Pimlico, Private Terms Stakes winner Kid Cruz -- who scratched from the Wood Memorial due to a lingering shoulder issue -- won the Federico Tesio Stakes in impressive fashion. Rated well off the leaders during the first few furlongs, Kid Cruz moved up down the backstretch to reach contention, maintained his position around the final turn, and burst clear of the field in the homestretch to win by 3 1/2 decisive lengths. The final time of 1:47.38 for 8.5 furlongs was not very fast, but it was partly the result of a 1:16.39 three-quarters fraction.

Coming up in three minutes is the Illinois Derby (gr. III), where Midnight Hawk is the favorite at 3-5. Class Leader is the second choice at 4-1, followed by King Cyrus (8-1) and Dynamic Impact (9-1). The maiden Irish You Well was as low as 11-1 early in the wagering, but has since climbed to 16-1.

19 Apr 2014 6:42 PM

Some late money has just shifted the odds in the Illinois Derby -- Midnight Hawk has dropped to 2-5, while Dynamic Impact and Irish You Well have risen to 12-1 and 20-1, respectively. Class Leader is holding steady at 4-1.

19 Apr 2014 6:44 PM

Rusty Weisner;

Clubhouse Ride it is! Good luck!

19 Apr 2014 6:47 PM

Photo finish in the Illinois Derby! After setting moderate fractions of :24.11, :48.06, and 1:12.19, Midnight Hawk seemed to have the measure of pace-tracking Dynamic Impact while opening up a clear advantage turning for home. However, Dynamic Impact stayed on stubbornly in the homestretch, and managed to nail Midnight Hawk right at the finish to win by a nose. Irish You Well and Class Leader rounded out the superfecta. The final time for nine furlongs was 1:49.07 seconds.

At this point, I can't imagine that Midnight Hawk will run back in the Kentucky Derby two weeks from now, which could open the door for Harry's Holiday to join the Derby field. Commanding Curve would then be the bubble horse, with Pablo Del Monte in the 22nd position on the points list.

19 Apr 2014 6:55 PM

It sound like Kid Cruz will make his next start in the Preakness Stakes, where his experience at Pimlico could give him a mild advantage over the majority of his rivals.

19 Apr 2014 6:59 PM
Rusty Weisner


Sounds like Midnight Hawk is pointed for the Preakness.  Smart one, that Bobby B.  I see this, I just like Hoppertunity better.

19 Apr 2014 7:31 PM

Rusty Weisner;

Looks like we're both live through the first four races of our "Charles Town Challenge!" That was quite a victory by Rise Up in the Robert Hilton Memorial Stakes -- he looked like a completely different horse than the one that ran so poorly at Fair Grounds!

The Preakness Stakes looks like a terrific spot for Midnight Hawk, particularly if the race comes up weak from an early pace perspective, like it did last year. Interestingly, the Beyer for the Illinois Derby came back as a strong 102, and the final time of 1:49.07 is the second-fastest clocking since the turn of the century.

19 Apr 2014 10:01 PM

Rusty Weisner;

Following the runner-up finish from morning line favorite Quiet Success in the Sugar Maple Stakes, we're both live into the Charles Town Classic! If both Game On Dude and Clubhouse Ride finish in the top three, then this is going to be a very close contest! Currently, I hold a one-dollar edge in aggregate show payoffs, but Clubhouse Ride should pay quite a bit more to show than Game On Dude, especially since he's only the fourth choice in the show pool right now behind 'Dude, Moreno, and Imperative. Good luck!

19 Apr 2014 10:22 PM
Pedigree Ann

All of Rise Up's best races have been on bullrings or lower level tracks like Mountaineer. Every time he meets good horses on a better-class 1-mile oval, he's had his head handed to him. Three times in his young career already.  

19 Apr 2014 10:24 PM
Rusty Weisner


My contest picks were half serious, half tongue-in-cheek.  I don't like the format of this one: it invites picking chalk, doesn't it, and after seeing Immortal Eyes I just threw up my hands (I kind of liked that Uncle Todd, too).  Next contest, do the money-earned.  

I didn't play any of those picks, by the way.  We'll see how my $20 betting against Game On Dude goes.

19 Apr 2014 10:27 PM

Rusty Weisner;

Yes indeed, it does invite picking the chalk, doesn't it? Especially in races like these, where the chalk has looked great on paper and finished on-the-board in every stakes race thus far. This contest style might work better on a series of races with more entries and fewer standouts, but I definitely prefer our traditional contest style. Next time, it's back to normal! :)

19 Apr 2014 10:40 PM

Well, Game On Dude gave it a good try in the Charles Town Classic, but after being pressured in tag-team fashion by Moreno and Long River, he didn't have enough in reserve to hold off the late run of Imperative, who scored by a bit more than a length at odds of 26-1. Moreno was third, followed by Clubhouse Ride, Long River, Ruler of Love, and Lucy's Bob Boy.

It definitely wasn't a bad effort by 'Dude, but at this point, I think it's safe to say that he's not quite as good at bullring racetracks as he is on regular one-mile ovals. Interestingly, Imperative has now beaten Game On Dude twice this year, in both the San Antonio Stakes and tonight's Charles Town Classic. I hope to see them both in the [Hollywood] Gold Cup at Santa Anita this June. That should be a race to see!

19 Apr 2014 10:52 PM
Rusty Weisner

Forbidden Apple,

Re: Keelerman's note about Uncle Sigh.  I'll be feeling a little better going against Wildcat Red knowing that he will likely have some guaranteed pressure.  I remember you complaining last summer about Irad Ortiz always using up horses on the lead.

20 Apr 2014 8:33 AM
Rusty Weisner


Great job calling Dynamic Impact at 10-1 and Irish You Well underneath for a $423-2 trifecta.  As I've said before, it's nice when the blog host picks winners, and still more trifectas.  I hope you played your own picks.

20 Apr 2014 8:55 AM

Thanks for the congratulations, Rusty Weisner! I appreciate it!

Pedigree Ann;

It sounds like you were right! Bob Baffert has announced that Midnight Hawk will be skipping the Derby and the Preakness to target the Woody Stephens Stakes (gr. II) on Belmont day.

23 Apr 2014 9:09 AM
Little Bill

Any interest or thoughts on the Bewitch Stakes, Thur, at Kee? Mott's horse Romantica looks like a stand out but after that it's open. Big field so the payouts should be worthy regardless.

23 Apr 2014 12:52 PM

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