While many thoroughbred racing enthusiasts are already getting a glimpse of Kentucky Derby fever with the "run for the roses" now less than two weeks away, local owner, trainers and fans were keenly focused on last Saturday afternoon's card at Charles Town when the historic Jefferson County oval hosted the latest renewal of the Grade II, $1 million Charles Town Classic for older horses traveling the three-turn distance of one-mile and one-eighth.
Last Saturday afternoon's card at Charles Town began considerably earlier than what many local fans are accustomed to and even the big race was contested over an hour before the first race is usually offered on Saturday evenings. Invaders Diamond King and Rally Cry were co-favored at 5-2 while local star Runnin'toluvya was sent out as an overlooked 9-1 shot despite riding an eight-race win streak, including two stakes at the three-turn distance over the strip.
When the gates opened in the latest renewal of the Classic, Diamond King and Runnin'toluvya both broke alertly and vied for command through the far turn and passing the finish line the first time while traveling through modest splits of 24 flat, 48.1 and 1:12.2 for the first three calls. Rally Cry joined the mix three-wide entering the far turn but had little to offer in the lane in his seasonal debut.
In fact, by the eighth pole the latest renewal of the Charles Town Classic had evolved into a match race as Diamond King and Runnin'toluvya were set for an epic stretch battle. Runnin'toluvya found something more in reserve over the final 100 yards and the Grams trainee prevailed by a neck over a gritty Diamond King to score in 1:50.56 for the biggest victory for owner Judy Grams, trainer Tim Grams and jockey Oscar Flores.
"He was doing so good, I told Judy that we had to take a shot," Tim Grams said. "He came out of his last race great and he was doing great in the mornings. There were a lot of nice horses in there, but they all had to come here. I wasn't going to take this horse anywhere to face those kind of horses. But this horse is like a blessing. He's been the best thing to happen to me since I met my wife 18 years ago."
A five-year-old Fiber Sonde gelding out of a Not For Love mare, Runnin'toluvya has won both of his starts this year, five straight stakes and nine straight races overall. He now sports 12 wins and more than $900,000 banked from 16 career outings and provided West Virginia-breds with another local graded stakes score. Last fall, Late Night Pow Wow narrowly prevailed in the Grade III, $300,000 Charles Town Oaks for three-year-old fillies and she has since won the Grade III, $250,000 Barbara Fritchie Stakes at Laurel Park for trainer Javier Contreras.
Speaking of Contreras, one race earlier in the $100,000 Dance to Bristol Stakes for fillies and mares, Devine Mischief (J.D. Acosta) gained command soon after the break, strolled through modest early splits then held safe the late bids of Isotope and Lake Ponchatrain for a neck score in 1:25.61 for the seven furlongs. A four-year-old daughter of Into Mischief trained by Contreras for the Breeze Easy LLC, Devine Mischief notched her first win in four starts this year and now owns five wins and $260,000 banked from 12 career outings.
Then one race earlier in the $75,000 Russell Road Stakes for older males, Clubman (Xavier Perez) rallied from well off the pace as an overlooked 10-1 shot to overhaul Cool Arrow late for a half-length score. A Maryland-bred, five-year-old Not For Love gelding trained by Rodolpho Sanchez-Solomon, Clubman recorded his third win in four starts this year and now sports eight wins and nearly $320,000 banked from 28 lifetime tries after getting the seven panels in 1:24.56 over the fast track.
One race earlier in the $100,000 Robert Hilton Memorial for three-year-olds also contesting the two-turn distance of seven furlongs, Malpais (Gabriel Saez) gained command entering the clubhouse turn, rebuffed pressure from War Tocsin down the backside, shook loose on the far turn and edged clear from 4-1 second choice Admiral Lynch and even-money co-favorite Federal Case to score by three lengths in 1:25.15 for the seven panels. A sophomore son of Hard Spun trained by Joe Sharp, Malpais notched his second win in four starts this year and his third score in six career outings and nearly doubled his lifetime earnings to $130,000.