The inaugural Charles Town Classic offered a $1 million tiered purse – Grade 1 winners eligible for the full million, Grade 2 winners ran for $750,000, Grade 3 winners $600,000, and all others $500,000. The enticement worked, as among the 10 starters were Grade 1 winners Commentator, from the Nick Zito barn, and Mast Track, sent east by Bobby Frankel.
Charles Town-based star Researcher, winner of the Grade 3 Queens County Handicap at Aqueduct the previous December, was not overlooked, going off as the 3-1 second choice. He galloped home a 21⁄4-length winner over the Tom Albertrani-trained Ea; Commentator finished fourth and Mast Track seventh. Researcher’s final time for the richest race around three turns was 1:49.86, just shy of the track mark he set in his previous start. A Virginia-bred by Virginia stallion Two Smart, bred by the Virginia Tech Foundation Inc. and trained by Jeff Runco for Hermen Greenberg’s Rutledge Farm, the 5-year-old pushed his earnings to $676,809 with his 10th win in 17 starts.
The gelding came back to repeat in 2010 for new owner Kinross Corporation, who purchased him following the death of Greenberg that February. All runners competed for the $1 million. By year’s end, Researcher was on a new career path, starting over fences with trainer Neil Morris. In six steeplechase starts, he was second once (missing by a neck), fell once and was pulled up twice. He retired with a record of 35-13-7-2 and earnings of $1,396,079.
• “Virginia Racing Industry Stymied On All Fronts” read the headline as writer Bill Finley examined its future. “The bottom line is a racing and breeding industry that is not only not growing but contracting. Realistic solutions? No one seems to have any.”
Finley noted positives: “Colonial Downs is a nice facility with arguably the best turf course in the country, and Virginians are known to be passionate about horses.” But what it didn’t have were “. . . slot machines, or an off-track betting network that covers the most populous areas of the state, year-round racing or anything close to it, a healthy breeding industry or many influential politicians sympathetic to the industry’s myriad problems.”
n Familiar horsemen once again topped the Maryland standings as Laurel Park’s 15-week winter meet concluded. Owner Robert Cole dominated when winning 25 races from 67 starts (37 percent) and trainer Scott Lake had 44 wins, 12 more than second place John Rigattieri. Jeremy Rose took the jockey title with 50 wins, after starting the meet 1-for-24.
Lake has won 18 meet titles at Laurel and Pimlico from 2000-18, and nearly 1,200 of his 6,000-plus wins have come at the two tracks. An Eclipse Award finalist and the nation’s leading trainer by wins four years in the 2000s, Lake reached 6,000 wins at Parx April 22 with I’m the Talent – read more in this month’s Around the Ovals.
• Only two of the eight starters finished the 113th Maryland Hunt Cup. The winner was Michele Marieschi (GB), guided home by 45-year-old George Hundt in his first Hunt Cup try. “I would have been happy just to finish,” said Hundt. “I was so focused on sticking to the game plan and being smart and not getting ahead of myself that it didn’t even register that I might win.”
• Pennsylvania-based steeplechase trainer Janet Elliot and 1980 English Grand National winner *Ben Nevis II were to join Bob Baffert, Eddie Maple and horses Silverbulletday and Tiznow in the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame. Elliot became the second woman elected, joining jockey Julie Krone, and was the first woman Hall of Fame trainer.
A two-time Maryland Hunt Cup winner *Ben Nevis II campaigned for Redmond Stewart Jr. and was trained by his daughter Ann and her then-husband Charlie Fenwick Jr., who rode the gelding throughout his career.