Amid ideal conditions for any outdoor sporting event last Saturday evening, Charles Town hosted the latest edition of the West Virginia Breeders Classics, a nine-race card featuring many of the best West Virginia-bred runners of all ages and both genders with the two main events being among the later portion of the card.
In fact, the next-to-last race on the WVBC card was the $300,000 Classic, the race for older horses navigating the three-turn distance of nine furlongs. Fittingly, the race featured the defending champion of the 2018 edition, Runnin’toluvya, who had solidified his local legendary status in April by capturing the Grade II, $1 million Charles Town Classic at the same three-turn distance over the oval.
Another victory on Saturday was deemed a virtual certainty.
Just prior to the Classic field being sent on its way, however, Runnin’toluvya reared up and nearly flipped over the back of the gate then lunged forward and broke through the front of the gate. Jockey Christian Hiraldo dismounted briefly while the vet and trainer Tim Grams, nearby on an outrider pony, looked over the favorite. Despite a mild cut on his left stifle (knee), Runnin’toluvya loaded back in the gate and broke alertly in the early stages.
Runnin’toluvya gained command entering the far turn the first time, then yielded quickly to Opera Nite, who led the field past the grandstands the first time with the favorite just off of his flank. Positions remained unchanged through the clubhouse turn and into the backside, but by the quarter pole, Runnin’toluvya was empty and he backed through the field and finished last as the 1-2 choice and was vanned off the track in a precautionary measure.
“He had a cut on his left stifle,” Grams said. “I probably should have scratched him. The cut looked worse than what it was. He’ll be fine. When they came past us the first time I knew he had nothing. I really should have scratched him.”
While Runnin’toluvya floundered in his WVBC Classic title defense, Opera Nite ran a tremendous race in his first attempt going three turns. He disposed of the favorite before the far turn then appeared to hold stablemate North Atlantic at bay, but neither Jeff Runco trainee was prepared for the late surge of 68-1 outsider Castle Bound (Gustavo Larrosa) who closed late to prevail by a nose in 1:53.73.
Seven years earlier, Larrosa steered Lucy’s Bob Boy to a handy score in the West Virginia Breeders Classic and he guided Eastern Deelite to a second-place finish in the Classic another year. But Saturday night, he guided Castle Bound to a stunning upset in the Classic, one marred by the pre-race antics of Runnin’toluvya.
“When I saw the favorite break through the gate, I knew he was going to be no good,” Larrosa said. “I just wanted to save ground down the backside and through the far turn. When I angled off the rail turning for home, I had a lot of horse. I got after him and he finished really strong. When we straightened for home, I knew I had a chance to win it.”
One race earlier in the $175,000 Cavada for fillies and mares, defending champion Late Night Pow Wow, a multiple graded stakes winner in her own right, dropped out of the event and left the door open for Anna’s Bandit, who finished third in the Cavada and the Maryland Million Distaff last fall for trainer John [Jerry] Robb of Little Bold John fame. Winner of the $50,000 Sadie Hawkins in her most recent outing, Anna’s Bandit was a 1-9 favorite in the Cavada largely due to Late Night Pow Wow’s absence.
Reserved just off the pace in fifth through the early stages of the Cavada, Anna’s Bandit angled out three-wide down the backside, then surged to command on the far turn and drew clear in the lane to a four-length score. Trained by John [Jerry] Robb for owner No Guts No Glory Stable [Gina Robb, et al], Anna’s Bandit recorded her third straight stakes victory and now owns seven wins in nine starts this year and 14 victories and just over $600,000 banked from 30 career tries.
“My wife [Gina] was nervous because speed horses were winning all night and this filly doesn’t have any early speed,” Robb said. “But she was able to settle in on the first turn and she got clear sailing down the backside. She did it pretty easily. We may run her back next weekend in the Maryland Million. We have already nominated. We’ll enter and see how she’s doing during the middle of the week and if everything’s perfect then we’ll go in there.”