The allure of a rich purse attracted horses from all across the country for Saturday night's Charles Town Classic, but it was the lone local horse in the 10-horse field who stole the show at Charles Town Races and Slots.
Researcher, under Kendrick Carmouche, took over from pacesetting Commentator, the 6-5 favorite, with three-sixteenths of a mile remaining and cruised home to a decisive 2 1/4-length victory in the $615,000 Charles Town Classic. Ea, ridden by Javier Castellano, rallied from well back to be second, 2 3/4 lengths ahead of Dry Martini, who rallied from last under Edgar Prado. Commentator, making his 8-year-old debut, had to settle for fourth, beaten 6 3/4 lengths.
The win was the sixth from his last seven starts and 10th from 17 overall for Researcher, a 5-year-old Virginia-bred gelded son of Two Smart owned by Rutledge Farm and trained by Jeff Runco. Researcher earned $360,000, more than doubling his career earnings from his previous 16 starts. With a base purse of $500,000, the Charles Town Classic had a tiered purse structure that would have made it worth $1 million had a Grade 1 winner - in this case Commentator or Mast Track - won. Researcher, who won the Grade 3 Queens County at Aqueduct last December, beat six other graded winners in the Charles Town Classic.
"It was big, it was the big one," Runco said. "It was a great night for me, a great night for the track. The atmosphere was unbelievable; the place was packed. There was a good bit of cheering going on. It was fun, it really was."
Breaking from post 3, Carmouche kept Researcher within two lengths of Commentator, who, under John Velazquez, set fractions of 24 seconds, 47.57, and 1:11.96 for the opening six furlongs.
Researcher, Mast Track, and Magnum were three across the track chasing Commentator. Entering the third and final turn, Researcher emerged from the second flight and set sail after Commentator, overtaking him inside the eighth pole.
Researcher, who won for the seventh time in 11 starts at Charles Town, ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.86 and returned $8.40 as the second choice. Three weeks ago, in wining an allowance race here over three rivals, Researcher set a track record of 1:49.76 for the 1 1/8 miles.
Runco said Sunday morning that when he got home Saturday night he glanced at the stakes schedule, though he has not yet picked anything out for Researcher.
"He's been so consistent his last five or six races there's no reason not to look at some spots that I might not have normally looked at," Runco said. "I don't want to overmatch horses, but he's shown he can run with some of the best around. It'll definitely open a few more doors I think as far as races to look at."
Sugar Maple: Spritely scores by 3 1/4
Trainer Todd Pletcher's decision to scratch Spritely from Saturday afternoon's Grade 2, $150,000 Bed o' Roses Handicap at Aqueduct paid dividends Saturday night as the 4-year-old filly rolled to a 3 1/4-length victory in the $250,000 Sugar Maple Stakes.
Choragus held off favored Weathered by a head for second.
After Spritely drew post 10 in the Sugar Maple, Pletcher had some reservations about whether to run there or in New York. But with Spritely's excellent early speed, post 10 proved no hindrance as she broke sharply under Velazquez, pressed the modest pace of 23.92 and 47.11 seconds established by Cowgirls Don't Cry, took command around the far turn, and came home a relatively easy winner.
Spritely, a daughter of Touch Gold purchased for $400,000 as a yearling by Edward Evans, covered seven furlongs in 1:24.44 and returned ($12.40) as the 5-1 fourth choice.
Choragus, who stalked the pace, held off Weathered in the stretch to gain the place.