Looking for an Upset in the Charles Town Classic

On April 18th, the racing world will turn its attention to Charles Town racetrack in West Virginia, where the $1,500,000 Charles Town Classic (gr. II) is the highlight of a thirteen-race card featuring eight stakes races. The star of the show will be Shared Belief, whose seemingly unlimited potential and accomplishments thus far have placed him in the position to stamp himself as an all-time great with a strong season this year. So with this background of excitement in mind, let’s take a look at the entries!

Charles Town Classic (gr. II)

# Horse Jockey Trainer Last race
1 Looking Cool W. De La Cruz Judy Marcus 3rd Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)
2 Vyjack J. Montano Rudy Rodriguez 5th Stymie Stakes (VIDEO)
3 Street Babe Joel Rosario Michael Dilger 1st Mineshaft Handicap (gr. III) (VIDEO)
4 Shared Belief Mike Smith Jerry Hollendorfer 1st Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) (VIDEO)
5 Page McKenney H. Karamanos Mary Eppler 1st Harrison E. Johnson Memorial Stakes (VIDEO)
6 Moreno Cornelio Velasquez Eric Guillot 3rd New Orleans Handicap (gr. II) (VIDEO)
7 General a Rod John Velazquez Todd Pletcher 1st Challenger Stakes (VIDEO)
8 Warrioroftheroses Travis Dunkelberger Damon Dilodovico 2nd Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)
9 Imperative Alonso Quinonez George Papaprodromou 8th Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) (VIDEO)

The Charles Town Classic is an intriguing and difficult race to handicap due to the six-furlong "bullring" nature of the track, which can make good horses look great and cause great horses to struggle. Game On Dude, one of the best horses of the last several years, ran in the race on three occasions and arguably underperformed each time, winning by a half-length in 2013 and finishing second in 2012 and 2014.

This brings us to the intriguing question of what to do with Shared Belief, who will be a very heavy favorite in the Charles Town Classic. The son of Candy Ride has won ten of his eleven starts, with his only defeat coming in a roughly-run renewal of the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Furthermore, his two races this year have been stellar—a decisive victory over California Chrome in the San Antonio Invitational (gr. I) and a romping 4 ¼-length triumph in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I). In terms of Beyer speed figures, he towers over his opposition, and it will be a major upset if he loses this race.

That said, this will be his first start outside of California, and his first start over a bullring racetrack. If there’s ever going to be a race in which he is vulnerable, this is probably the one. So given that he is bound to be an odds-on favorite, I’m going to try and beat him with a horse offering better odds.

One logical candidate to pull the upset is Imperative, who rebounded from a 17 ¾-length defeat in the 2014 Santa Anita Handicap to upset Game On Dude in last year’s Charles Town Classic. For his effort, he earned a career-best 107 Beyer, a figure he matched when third to Shared Belief in the 2014 Pacific Classic (gr. I). However, Imperative has not been in the best of form since then, finishing no better than fifth in his last five starts, and most recently coming home 12 ½ lengths behind Shared Belief when eighth in the Santa Anita Handicap. Still, his form wasn’t that much better leading into the 2014 Charles Town Classic, and it’s possible that a return to the site of his biggest success could yield a much-improved performance.

Moreno should also be right in the thick of things. The front-running winner of the 2014 Whitney Handicap (gr. I) returned from a layoff to finish second behind Shared Belief in the Santa Anita Handicap, then shipped to Fair Grounds and was beaten a half-length when third in the New Orleans Handicap (gr. II) after a race-long battle for the lead. He ran well to finish third in this race last year off a layoff, but figures to be challenged from the outset by Warrioroftheroses, and I’m not sure he will be able to hang on in the homestretch against the closers.

This brings us to General a Rod, who competed in all three legs of the Triple Crown last year, with his best finish being a fourth-place effort in the Preakness. Given a long rest after the Belmont, he returned to finish fourth in a seven-furlong allowance race at Gulfstream Park, after which he was transferred from the barn of Mike Maker to Todd Pletcher. In his second start off the layoff, he fired off a huge effort to win the 8.5-furlong Challenger Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs with a 104 Beyer, running the third quarter-mile in about :23 4/5 and the final five-sixteenths in about :30 3/5 to win by 6 ¼ lengths. Furthermore, the horses he defeated have come back to run very well—runner-up Old Time Hockey won the Tampa Turf Classic Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, and third-place finisher Neck ‘n Neck came back to run second in the Ben Ali Stakes (gr. III) at Keeneland. Having landed a favorable outside post position, and with some speed in the race to help set up his late run, I think General a Rod can work out a great trip and repeat his performance from the Challenger, which might be enough to defeat Shared Belief if the latter doesn’t fire his best shot.

Now it’s your turn! Who do you like in the Charles Town Classic?


In order to aid in handicapping the Derby, here is a current list of the top 23 Derby contenders, along with the replays of their last three races. Also, here are links to the Kentucky Derby prep race schedule and the complete entries and current standings for our "Road to the Kentucky Derby" Handicapping Challenge. Enjoy the racing!

Horse Points Last race
International Star 171

1st Louisiana Derby (gr. II) (VIDEO)
1st Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
1st LeComte Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)

Dortmund 170 1st Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) (VIDEO)
1st San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
1st Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
Carpe Diem 164 1st Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO)
1st Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) (VIDEO)
2nd Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) (VIDEO)
American Pharoah 160 1st Arkansas Derby (gr. I) (VIDEO)
1st Rebel Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
1st FrontRunner Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO)
Frosted 113 1st Wood Memorial (gr. I) (VIDEO)
4th Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
2nd Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
Mubtaahij 100 1st UAE Derby (UAE-II) (VIDEO)
1st Al Bastakiya Stakes (replay posted below)
2nd UAE 2,000 Guineas (UAE-III) (replay posted below)
Materiality 100 1st Florida Derby (gr. I) (VIDEO)
1st Islamorada Handicap (gr. II) (VIDEO)
1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
El Kabeir 95 3rd Wood Memorial (gr. I) (VIDEO)
1st Gotham Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
2nd Withers Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
Upstart 76 2nd Florida Derby (gr. I) (VIDEO)
2nd (DQ'd from 1st) Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
1st Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
Far Right 62 2nd Arkansas Derby (gr. I) (VIDEO)
1st Southwest Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
1st Smarty Jones Stakes (VIDEO)
Itsaknockout 60 4th Florida Derby (gr. I) (VIDEO)
1st (via DQ) Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
1st Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)
Firing Line 58

1st Sunland Derby (gr. III) (VIDEO)
2nd Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
2nd Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I) (VIDEO)

Danzig Moon 45 2nd Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO)
4th Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) (VIDEO)
1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
War Story 44 3rd Louisiana Derby (gr. II) (VIDEO)
2nd Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
2nd LeComte Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
Tencendur 41 2nd Wood Memorial (gr. I) (VIDEO)
5th Gotham Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
4th Withers Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
One Lucky Dane 40 2nd Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) (VIDEO)
1st Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)
6th Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) (VIDEO)
Stanford 40 2nd Louisiana Derby (gr. II) (VIDEO)
2nd Islamorada Handicap (VIDEO)
1st Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)
Mr. Z 34 3rd Arkansas Derby (gr. I) (VIDEO)
9th Louisiana Derby (gr. II) (VIDEO)
3rd Southwest Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
Ocho Ocho Ocho 30 3rd Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO)
8th San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
1st Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
Bolo 30 3rd Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) (VIDEO)
3rd San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
1st Eddie Logan Stakes (VIDEO)
Madefromlucky 30 4th Arkansas Derby (gr. I) (VIDEO)
2nd Rebel Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
1st Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)
Keen Ice 22 4th Louisiana Derby (gr. II) (VIDEO)
4th Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
5th Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
Frammento 20 4th Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO)
3rd Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
6th Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)

Al Bastakiya Stakes

UAE 2,000 Guineas (UAE-III)

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