10/14/2009 11:00PM

3-year-olds pose big threat in Classsic


The situation is apparently ripe for 3-year-olds to challenge their elders on Charles Town's richest night of racing ever.

Russell Road, a 3-year-colt who is 6 for 6 in restricted stakes but unproven beyond his comfort zone of seven furlongs, will shoot for the $500,000 jackpot in the West Virginia Breeders' Classic on Saturday night.

Likewise, 3-year-old fillies Run Louis Run and My Sister Margaret will challenge two-time champion Julie B in the $500,000 Cavada for fillies and mares.

The Classic and Cavada are the co-headliners on the 23rd annual West Virginia Breeders Classics program, which is worth a record $2 million. Restricted to West Virginia-breds, the all-stakes card attracted full fields of 10 in six of the nine races.

Russell Road will face the last two winners of the Classic, Ghostly Thunder and Eastern Delite, when he stretches out to 1 1/8 miles for the first time.

Asking Russell Road to travel an extra two furlongs is what worries trainer James W. Casey the most.

"There are a lot of horses that close well going seven furlongs that just can't stretch out much farther," said Casey, who has sent out Russell Road to 5 wins in 7 starts this season. "I just hope we're not one of them."

The likelihood of a wet track could work in Russell Road's favor. He is 2 for 2 over sloppy surfaces, including a win over older statebreds in the Frank Gall in August.

Ghostly Thunder won the 2008 Classic to complete a campaign as a 3-year-old that included four stakes wins. But he has struggled to regain his form this season. He is 0 for 3 and was beaten 11 1/2 lengths by fellow Classic contestant Peaceful Bliss as the 8-5 favorite in last month's Robert Hilton Memorial, the local prep for the Classic.

Eastern Delite, a 5-year-old, is 1 for 12 since winning the 2007 Classic but was good enough to finish second, beaten less than a length, to Ghostly Thunder a year ago. He was last, beaten more than 21 lengths, in the Hilton.

Peaceful Bliss, a distant fifth in last year's Classic, will be dangerous if he can come anywhere close to the career-best 105 Beyer Speed Figure he earned in upsetting the Hilton, but he appears susceptible to a bounce.

In the Cavada, Julie B may look vulnerable after finishing far back in her tune-up for Saturday's seven-furlong stakes. But trainer George Yetsook said Julie B, who won the Cavada in 2006 and 2008 and was second in 2007, probably needed her last start in the Roger Van Hoozer Memorial following a long layoff.

"She was off for five months before the Van Hoozer," Yetsook said. "That, and she had to be five wide down the backstretch. I'd be surprised if she didn't run well."

A victory would enable Julie B, a 6-year-old who has won 15 of 28 starts and $834,498, to surpass the $1 million milestone.

Her chief challengers figure to be the 3-year-olds Run Louis Run and My Sister Margaret, who were separated by a half-length as the one-two finishers in the Ruth Funkhouser Memorial on Sept. 25.

Run Louis Run is part of the red-hot barn of trainer Tim Grams, whose runners have gone 17 for 31 since Sept. 5.

"Her speed numbers put her right near the top in this race, so this is where we'll take our shot," said Grams, who had the option of running the filly against her age group in the $140,000 West Virginia Division of Tourism.

In addition to Run Louis Run, Grams will send out recent maiden winner King's Glory in the $140,000 Vincent Moscarelli Memorial for 2-year-olds going 6 1/2 furlongs; Green Suede Shoes, a stakes winner last month with a 96 Beyer, in the $140,000 Dash for Cash at 4 1/2 furlongs; and the 3-year-old filly Cliquot Cat in the 1 1/8-mile, $150,000 Distaff.

Elsewhere on the card:

* The Maryland-based Silver Cub, a wire-to-wire winner in last month's Golden Gull, will be formidable in the $140,000 Triple Crown Nutrition for 2-year-old fillies going 4 1/2 furlongs.

* The absence of Russell Road throws the $140,000 West Virginia Lottery for 3-year-olds into a wide-open race with Carol's Hero, One Bold West, Buzz, and Pagan Cat all owning recent Beyers within 3 points of each other.

* With the two most prominent horses opting for the richer Cavada, Aspenglow, a 10-length winner over a sloppy track last time out, inherits the role of favorite in the West Virginia Division of Tourism for 3-year-old fillies going seven furlongs.

* Darth Tater, an easy winner with a 98 Beyer two starts ago but who stopped badly last time out, rates a slight edge in the seven-furlong, $150,000 Onion Juice.