Alex Venneri Racing and Little Red Feather Racing's versatile Midnight Storm leads a group of six Grade 1 winners that headline a list of 72 nominees for the $1,250,000 Charles Town Classic (G2) coming up on April 22 at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races. Nominations for the 1 1/8 mile Charles Town Classic closed on Saturday, April 1.
Trained by Phil D'Amato, six-year-old Midnight Storm established himself as one of the top turf horses in the United States in 2016 with wins in the Shoemaker Mile (G1) as well as the Eddie Read (G2) and Del Mar Mile (G2) before checking in third behind Tourist and Tepin in the 2016 Breeders' Cup Mile (G1) at Santa Anita. Following his run in the Breeders' Cup, Midnight Storm was shifted to the dirt where he added victories in the Native Diver (G3) and San Pasqual (G2) before dropping a hard fought decision to Shaman Ghost in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) in his last outing. A victory in the Charles Town Classic would put Midnight Storm well over $2 million in career earnings.
2015 Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) winner Mor Spirit is one of five horses from the barn of Hall of Famer Bob Baffert nominated. Most recently a 2 1/2 length winner of the $250,000 Essex Handicap. Mor Spirit is joined by stablemates Collected, 2016 West Virginia Derby (G2) winner Cupid, Cat Burglar and American Freedom who is unraced since ending his three-year-old campaign with runner-up finishes to Preakness winner Exaggerator in the Haskell (G1) and the brilliant Arrogate in the Travers (G1).
Multiple Grade 1 winner Dortmund, formerly in the Baffert barn but now under the care of Art Sherman, shows up on the list of nominees following a fourth place finish in the Santana Mile on Saturday while Hronis Racing's Hard Aces – winner of the 2015 Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1) – is also nominated after his win in the Tokyo City (G3) this past weekend. Trained by John Sadler, Hard Aces made the trip to West Virginia and finished seventh in last year's Charles Town Classic. Sadler also has Accelerate, third in the 2016 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1) nominated.
One of two non-California based Grade 1 winners is 2015 Stephen Foster (G1) hero Noble Bird from the stable of Mark Casse. Casse also has Awesome Slew and Tour de Force nominated to the Classic.
Stanford, who is expected to return to Charles Town to defend his Charles Town Classic crown, is one of nine horses nominated by Todd Pletcher. Pletcher is one of only two trainers in Charles Town Classic history to win the race more than once having also captured it with Caixa Eletronica in 2012. The final nominee with a Grade 1 triumph on his resume is Greenpointcrusader, who won the 2015 Champagne (G1) while in the barn of Dominick Schettino before being transferred to Pletcher. Others nominated from the Pletcher camp include 2015 West Virginia Derby (G2) winner Madefromlucky and Red Rifle who has multiple victories in graded stakes to his credit.
Stanford likely won't be the only horse looking to take down the top prize in the Charles Town Classic for a second time as Loooch Racing's Imperative, who shocked Game on Dude at odds of 26.50-to-1 in 2014, appears poised to become the first horse to make four starts in the race. Now in the barn of Bob Hess, the 2017 edition of the Charles Town Classic would mark the third different trainer Imperative has started in West Virginia's eastern panhandle under with George Papaprodromou saddling him in 2014 and 2015 and Richard Baltas down as conditioner last year. Loooch Racing also has Pegasus World Cup (G1) runner War Story and the California based sprinter Cautious Giant nominated.
Others of note on the list of 72 include 2016 Clark Handicap (G1) runner-up Breaking Lucky, recent Skip Away (G3) winner Fear the Cowboy, graded winner Fish Trappe Road, Governor Malibu, recent New Orleans Handicap (G2) victor Honorable Duty, 2015 Louisiana Derby (G2) champ International Star, Sunny Ridge, Texas Chrome and the popular Mid-Atlantic runner Page McKenney, third and second in the last two runnings of the Charles Town Classic.
All told, 33 of the 72 nominees have won at least one graded stakes with a total of 66 wins against graded company between them.
Nominations for the $100,000 Sugar Maple for older fillies and mares, the $85,000 Robert Hilton Memorial for three-year-olds, and $50,000 Russell Road Stakes – all run at 7 furlongs – close on April 8 with the nomination deadline for a quartet of West Virginia-bred stakes coming up on April 12.
Post time for the first race on the 13 race Charles Town Classic day card is 12:45 P.M. with the Charles Town Classic itself scheduled as Race 11 and will go off at approximately 5:35. In addition to being aired on TVG and TVG2 as well as the Horse Racing Radio Network, the Charles Town Classic will be a part of Fox Sports 2's live broadcast that emanates from Aqueduct and runs from 4:00 P.M. to 6:00 P.M.
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