CHARLES TOWN CLASSIC | PURSE: $1,500,000 | 4-YEAR-OLDS & UP | GRADE 2 | 1 1/8 MILES
Imperative pounced on a softened-up Game On Dude rounding the final turn and proved best in the drive to land a $1 million payday at odds of 26-1 in the Charles Town Classic April 19 at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races.
Sent off at 3-5 odds in the $1.5 million event, Game On Dude didn't have much left after being pressed by Moreno and Long River through quick fractions on the Charles Town bullring. Imperative, ridden superbly by Kent Desormeaux, was poised to take advantage of the quick tempo after a perfect stalking trip. He swept past Game On Dude in the short drive and edged away to a 1 ½-length triumph, completing the 1 ⅛-mile distance in 1:50.56 over a fast track.
Game On Dude held second in a game effort, 1 ½ lengths in front of Moreno, who re-rallied after weakening while trying to match strides with Game On Dude on the front end.
Like Game On Dude, Imperative shipped cross-country from Santa Anita Park for the CT Classic, looking to rebound from a seventh-place finish, nearly 18 lengths behind Game On Dude in the Santa Anita Handicap March 8. The 4-year-old son of Bernardini proved more than capable for George Papaprodromou, who trains the gelding for K M Racing Enterprises.
Papaprodromou claimed Imperative for $50,000 from co-breeder and owner Darley Stable for $50,000 Dec. 21. Imperative hinted at his ability when second, beaten a half-length by Blingo, in the San Antonio Stakes Feb. 8.
Desormeaux rode Imperative at Santa Anita Park for the first time in the San Antonio, and was back aboard in the Big 'Cap.
"I was wowed in the San Antonio," Desormeaux said. "I was saying the same thing, 'Who is this horse?' He didn't do much running last time [in the Santa Anita Handicap], but I was very confident this is the kind of horse he is. He can do this."
With a victory, multiple Grade 1 winner Game On Dude would have gone over $7 million in career earnings while becoming racing's all-time leading gelding by purse money earned.
Instead, Imperative snapped a nine-race losing streak dating back to an allowance/optional claiming win for former trainer Eoin Harty at Golden Gate Fields in March 2013.
The winner, carrying 118 pounds, paid $55, $7.40, and $3.60, teaming with 123-pound highweight Game On Dude ($2.40, $2.20) for a $139.80 exacta. Moreno paid $4.20.
Imperative raced toward the rear of the seven-horse field in the early stages as Game On Dude, ridden by Mike Smith, was challenged right out of the gate by Moreno and Joel Rosario. They stepped an opening quarter mile in :23.47 seconds and the half in :46.85 seconds and Moreno, making his first appearance since folding in the Breeders' Cup Classic Nov. 2, already appeared to be losing steam. Long River, advancing on the outside, immediately took up the pace and applied pressure from the outside as The Dude negotiated six furlongs in 1:11.77.
"I saw them leave like banshee indians, but they do it all the time. That's how Mike [Smith] rides that horse [Game On Dude]," Desormeaux said. "He likes going faster. The faster he goes, he runs the rest of us into the ground. But Imperative just dragged me up to them. The second turn, I was running over the top of them, pitched him out and went even faster."
At that point, Imperative had advanced into third on the outside and continued to make progress as a clear threat rounding the final bend. The bay runner struck the front a furlong-and-a-half from the wire and held on resolutely as Game On Dude kept fighting to no avail.
"I got to them, maybe his nose on their rump, and I slowed him down and he got big breather from the three-eighths [pole] to inside the quarter [pole], and by the time we got to the eighth pole I hadn't even asked him yet," Desormeaux said. "He was already passing them, and when I cued him, he just exploded."
Imperative, bred in Kentucky by Darley and Glencrest Farm, is out of the Caller I.D. mare Call Her. John Ferguson, bloodstock advisor to Sheikh Mohammed, purchased him from Glencrest Farm for $325,000 out of the 2011 Keeneland September yearling sale when consigned by Four Star Sales, agent.
The victory, Imperative's third in 15 lifetime starts along with four seconds and a third, boosted his career bankroll to $1,134,620.
Papaprodromou said he claimed Imperative because of his bloodlines.
"It's hard to buy them at the sales. They're too expensive, so we saw him being in for a tag for $50,000, so we just jumped on it, gave it a shot," said Papaprodromou, who called the CT Classic his biggest victory. "We just got him to run him on the dirt at Santa Anita. That's where I train. We got lucky with it, I guess. We put blinkers and a figure eight on him and it worked out perfect.
"Game On Dude is a great horse, don't get me wrong I just loved the way my horse was improving and coming along. So I just took a shot and came out here. I beat Game On Dude last time in the San Antonio. My horse kind of bounced in the Santa Anita Handicap because he'd run a huge race in the San Antonio. I did exactly the same training."