The 2016 Kentucky Derby Trail has come to a close in anticipation of this year’s “Run for the Roses” on May 7 at Churchill Downs, but that does not mean that major graded stakes racing is taking the next two weeks off starting with this Saturday’s $1.25 million Charles Town Classic for four-year old thoroughbreds and older.
The field for this Saturday’s Classis is still taking shape, but there are a few quality veterans expected to make a run at winning one of the richest races of the season. Going over the probable entries on the current list, the following two horses would be my “best bet” sports pick for a winning exacta bet in this race.
Charles Town Classic- Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races
The Charles Town Classic is a Grade 2 stakes race open to four-year old thoroughbreds and up. The total prize purse for this year’s event has been set at $1.25 million and the race will contested on dirt over a distance 1 1/8 miles.
Right now it appears that nine horses will be in the field for Saturday’s race. Last year at this time I was really high on International Star heading into the Triple Crown racing season as a three-year old after he won the Grade 1 Louisiana Derby, but trainer Mike Maker decided to put him on the shelf due to health reasons. He did run in the ungraded Zia Park Derby in late November only to finish out of the money in fourth place.
The main reason I like this four-year old New York-bred horse to get back to his winning ways in this race is a strong showing in last month’s Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap in which he placed second over a distance of 1 1/8 miles.
My second choice to beat the betting odds at the Charles Town Classic would be Hard Aces. This six-year old Kentucky-bred horse continues to put money in bettor’s pockets with his recent second-place finish in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap on March 12 over an extended distance of 1 ¼ miles. Last season he won the Grade 1 Gold Cup at Santa Anita after finishing third in the Grade 2 Californian Stakes in late May.
This horse has always been one of my favorites over the course of what has been a successful racing career. He comes into this event with a Horse Racing Nation rank of 61 and his current rating is second-highest in the field at 7.84.
Bonus Pick: Dixianna Elkhorn Stakes- Keeneland Racecourse
Another Grade 2 stakes race for four-year old thoroughbreds and up on this Saturday’s card takes horse bettors to Keeneland for the $200,000 Elkhorn Stakes. This graded event will be contested on a turf track over an extended distance of 1 ½ miles.
There are some quality long distance turf runners in this year’s Elkhorn with eight horses listed as entered. One solid contender that I have at the top of my list would be Up With the Birds. Trained by Graham Motion and ridden by veteran jockey John Velazquez, this six-year old Canadian-bred horse comes into this race with a solid HRN rating of 7.68. He has not raced since last November’s poor ninth-place finish in the Grade 2 Hollywood Turf Cup at DelMar and I think the time off should serve him well this Saturday.
Before that disappointing run, he finished in the money in six of his previous eight events starting with a victory in the Grade 2 Nijinsky Stakes at Woodbine as a four-year old. More recently, he took second place in the Grade 1 Canadian International Stakes last October over a distance of 1 ½ miles.
Twilight Eclipse is another veteran racer looking to bounce back from a poor outing after finishing eighth in last month’s Grade 2 Mac Diarmida Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Trained by Thomas Albertrani with jockey Julien Leparoux slated to get the ride, this seven-year old Kentucky-bred gelding is ranked 95th by HRN and he has the highest rating in the field (7.72) for Saturday’s race.
A few of his past claims to fame was a victory in the Grade 1 Man O’War Stakes at Belmont last May and a third-place run in the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at that same track later in the year over a distance of 1 ½ miles.