In what has become an unanticipated new trend in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, Charles Town offered a solid card on Saturday night amid very limited onlookers as the general public was prohibited from attending a program that typically would have drawn a solid gathering of spectators.
In the feature race on the card last Saturday, a two-turn allowance for state-bred older horses looked like a serious stakes at first glance although the field consisted of only four runners. Runnin’toluvya, hero of the Grade II, $1 million Charles Town Classic last April, made his 2020 debut for trainer Tim Grams five months after a disastrous end to his 2019 season when he reared up in the starting gate just before the start of the West Virginia Breeders Classic, cut his left stifle and then finished last as the odds-on choice.
Also making his seasonal debut in the same allowance affair was Penguin Power, riding a seven-race win streak that included stakes scores in the A Huevo, Frank Gall and Onion Juice Breeders Classic. Trained by Jeff Runco for owner David Raim, Penguin Power was actually made the 3-5 favorite in the compact group, while ‘Runnin’ was the 8-5 second choice. Runco trainee North Atlantic and Mean Bean, winner of his first two starts this year for owner-trainer Glenn Harrison, also went postward.
When the gates opened in the two-turn allowance, Penguin Power and Runnin’toluvya both broke alertly to vie for early command through the clubhouse turn, getting the opener in 23 flat and the half in 46.3, with North Atlantic and Mean Bean three lengths back. Penguin Power led the way down the backside and through the far turn and briefly appeared to shake loose from Runnin’toluvya, but the reigning Charles Town Classic hero had other ideas.
At the top of the lane, Runnin’toluvya collared Penguin Power and promptly overhauled the odds-on choice in the lane for a two-length score while stopping the timer in 1:25.31 for the seven furlongs. Penguin Power settled for the place spot as his seven-race skein came to a halt, while Mean Bean edged North Atlantic for the show spot.
“It was really good to see him come back and race that good, especially after the way last year ended,” Grams said of Runnin’toluvya, who now owns 14 wins from 21 career outings and moved to within $30,000 of reaching the $1 million plateau in lifetime earnings. “I really felt like this was a must-win situation for him, considering how last year ended. But he came back from the farm looking good and he trained great. He got a little loose in the paddock, but once he stepped onto the track he was really calm. He handled himself perfectly during the warmups, he loaded good and he broke well.”
One race earlier in another two-turn allowance for older boys, Two Bit Kid posted a mild 5-2 upset in his local debut when he sat just off leader Rescue Five through the first two calls, surged to command on the far turn then edged clear to a two-length score. A four-year-old Stay Thirsty stallion trained by Ben Delong, Two Bit Kid notched his second win in four starts this year and now owns a 4-2-2 slate and nearly $90,000 banked from 14 career tries after getting the 6 1/2-furlongs in 1:18.78.
Hero’s Man, who shared champion state-bred three-year-old honors with the undefeated Loving Touch, settled for fourth as the even-money choice in that allowance affair. The four-year-old Charitable Man homebred trained by James W. Casey had been in a good position for the first half-mile but had little to offer when the serious racing began leaving the quarter pole.
Several races earlier in another two-turn allowance for state-bred three-year-olds, Muad’dib continued the perfect start to his career when he easily lived up to his role as the 1-5 favorite. Away alertly to sit just off Swing Batter down the backside, Muad’dib surged to command on the far turn then drew clear for a six-length score to remain unbeaten in three lifetime outings while getting the 6 1/2-furlongs in 1:20.12. The sophomore son of Fiber Sonde trained by Jeff Runco for owner David Raim is the full-brother to Late Night Pow Wow, heroine of both the Grade III Charles Town Oaks and Grade III Barbara Frttchie during her career.
Then one race earlier in the Saturday opener, New Beginning forged a mild 5-2 upset in a two-turn maiden special weight event for older males. A son of Danza trained by Javier Contreras of Late Night Pow Wow fame, New Beginning saved ground down the backside and through the far turn, angled out for the drive and edged clear to a two-length score for his first victory in five career outings while stopping the timer in 1:29.33 for the seven panels.
Charles Town was, unfortunately, not the first nor the last to offer live racing while spectators were not permitted to attend. One week earlier Laurel Park offered a quartet of $100,000 stakes while patrons were prohibited and that same day Oaklawn Park in Arkansas hosted the Grade II, $1 million Rebel Stakes for three-year-olds and two other six-figure stakes in front of an empty grandstand and clubhouse.
This past Saturday afternoon at the Fair Grounds in Louisiana, Wells Bayou led throughout as the tepid 3-1 choice to capture the Grade II, $1 million Louisiana Derby in front of a vacant grandstand. A sophomore son of Lookin At Lucky trained by Brad Cox, Wells Bayou was able to dictate the tempo from the outset and held safe the late bid of 26-1 NY Traffic to score by just over a length while getting the one-mile and three-sixteenths in 1:56.47 for this third win in five lifetime tries.
Amid the fluid situation that has halted racing in Maryland, more than 100 horses were entered for Thursday’s nine-race card at Charles Town. Of course, since the starting gate only holds 10 runners, only 87 of those horses will have the chance to actually compete on Thursday. The opener is a maiden special weight event for state-bred fillies and mares that only attracted seven runners, but the other eight races are expected to go with 10 horses each.