Game On Dude: Santa Anita Handicap winner tops Charles Town ClassicPICTURE: EquiSport Photos/Alex Evers
Huge $1.5m purse brings stars to Charles Town
Preview: USA, Saturday (3.30am Sun BST)
Charles Town: Charles Town Classic (Grade 2) 1m1f, dirt, 4yo+
THE richest prize of the year so far is on offer on Saturday night in the unlikely environs of Charles Town, where a slots-inflated purse of $1.5 million has attracted two of the best older horses in the country to West Virginia.
Only a few Breeders' Cup events and the Kentucky Derby are worth more among US races, yet despite the huge prize-money and the presence of multiple Grade 1 winners Game On Dude and Ron The Greek, the Charles Town Classic remains only a Grade 2 contest.
Game On Dude (Bob Baffert/Mike Smith), twice a winner of the Santa Anita Handicap, must concede at least 5lb to six rivals, who also include this year's Big 'Cap runner-up Clubhouse Ride, nearly eight lengths behind the five-time Grade 1 winner in the most recent running of that storied contest last month.
Ron The Greek (Bill Mott/Jose Lezcano), who won the Santa Anita Handicap in 2012, was only fourth behind Game On Dude this time. Last year, though, he was the only horse to beat Wise Dan, the subsequent Horse of the Year, whom he took down in the Stephen Foster Handicap.
Never one to avoid a big purse, Todd Pletcher has entered three, headed by last year's Charles Town Classic winner, the now eight-year-old Caixa Eletronica (Javier Castellano), who comes in off a similar preparation. It's a much tougher race this time, though, as might be expected with a purse that is 50 per cent up compared to 2012.
Ladbrokes: 1-2 Game On Dude, 4 Ron the Greek, 8 Caixa Eletronica, 16 Clubhouse Ride, 20 Mordi's Miracle, 25 Percussion, 50 Isn't He Perfect.
>> Also on Saturday
Keeneland: Coolmore Lexington Stakes (Grade 2) 1m½f, AW, 3yo (10.13pm BST, live on ATR)
Pure Fun (Ken McPeek/Rosie Napravnik) takes an unusual route to the Kentucky Oaks by taking on the males in a race more usually regarded as a last-chance saloon for potential Kentucky Derby contenders.
The filly is drawn on the outside of a 11-runner field, where rivals include Cerro (Graham Motion/Joel Rosario), destined for the Preakness rather than Churchill Downs, and supplementary entry Sunbean (Mike Maker/Gary Stevens).
Todd Pletcher saddles a pair of allowance winners in Winning Cause (Julien Leparoux) and Examen (Garrett Gomez).
Ladbrokes: 7-2 Pure Fun, 9-2 Sunbean, 5 Examen, Winning Cause, 7 Cerro, 8 Pick of the Litter, 10 River Rocks, 20 Where's Dominic, 25 Wings of Fortune, 33 General Election, 66 Hip Four Sixtynine
>> Also on Saturday
Hawthorne: Illinois Derby (Grade 3) 1m1f, dirt, 3yo (11.15pm BST, live on ATR)
For what can only be political reasons, this $750,000 event is shamefully excluded from the Kentucky Derby qualifications system - despite having produced the 2002 winner War Emblem.
Leading contenders this time include Jerome Stakes runner-up Siete De Oros (Ramon Preciado/Angel Arroyo) and Louisiana Derby third Departing (Al Stall/Brian Hernandez).
Graded-stakes regular Dewey Square (Dale Romans/Corey Lanerie) comes here rather than last weekend's Blue Grass Stakes owing to his antipathy for the Keeneland Polytrack.