10/06/2016 2:56PM

Charitable Annuity no cinch to repeat in West Virginia Breeders' Classic

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Charitable Annuity is an early 8-5 favorite to successfully defend his title in the West Virginia Breeders’ Classic.

Charitable Annuity was a 6-1 shot when he powered home from the back of the field and won the 2015 West Virginia Breeders’ Classic by almost three lengths while going away at the finish. It’s a year later, and Charitable Annuity is back for another go in the $500,000 West Virginia Breeders’ Classic – but things have changed.

This time, Charitable Annuity is no secret – he is 8-5 on the morning line and could go postward an odds-on favorite – yet the 4-year-old has not looked quite his best in his two most recent starts. It’s unclear whether any of his nine rivals is up to engineering an upset even if Charitable Annuity doesn’t quite run back to his performance from one year ago, but it’s a possibility handicappers at least should ponder.

The Classic is the eighth of nine races Saturday night at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town on an all-stakes card for West Virginia-breds worth more than $1.1 million. First post is 7 p.m. Eastern, with the Classic scheduled for 10:48. The Classic will be broadcast live on a show airing between 10:30 and 11 p.m. on several regional sports networks and streamed live at DRF.com.

James W. Casey, Charitable Annuity’s 86-year-old trainer, said this week that the 4-year-old son of Charitable Man “is doing wonderful,” but his two races since returning from a two-month layoff starting in late June make one wonder. In an Aug. 27 allowance race over seven furlongs at Charles Town, Charitable Annuity was saved by the wire as Little Big Sime, among the Classic entrants, bore down on him, missing by a nose.

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A month later, Charitable Annuity was 1-10 while facing two horses in a nine-furlong allowance race but came under a drive to hold clear Start Line, another horse in the Classic but one whom a peak-form Charitable Annuity should have trounced.

It’s possible that Casey was just easing his stable star into his richest race of the year Saturday, but it’s also plausible that Charitable Annuity is not the same horse now that he was one year ago. He breaks from post 9 on Saturday under regular rider Antonio Lopez and figures to settle into a stalking position behind what projects to be a fast, contested pace.

Slip the Cable, who is unexposed at longer distances and has talent, would hold some appeal if it seemed like he could rate off the pace, but he’s drawn in post 2 and seems likely to be part of the pace with Ello Govna and Prince of Windsor, both of whom aren’t impossible to imagine breaking through.

The horse with the best chance to upset Charitable Annuity, however, is the one who nearly beat him in August, Little Big Sime. One small issue: Little Big Sime rarely wins.

Little Big Sime has won five of 34 during his career but has been blanked the last two calendar years, his most recent victory having come Dec. 13, 2014. He might also be slightly more effective at shorter distances, but if jockey Grant Whitacre, who rode Little Big Sime for the first time last out, sits chilly as long as he can and makes one late attack on tiring horses, perhaps he can finally get there.

Navy Ribbon faces tough task

The 4-year-old filly Navy Ribbon made two starts at Mountaineer Park this year and lost both, but at Charles Town, she has been unbeatable, a winner in all seven of her races. That makes her the one to beat Saturday in the $150,000 West Virginia Cavada Breeders’ Classic, the card’s co-feature, but Navy Ribbon does not have much margin for error at a short price.

Facing a similar group last month in the $50,000 Sadie Hawkins, Navy Ribbon prevailed by only a neck, albeit after a pressured front-end trip necessitated by her rail draw. She has the cozier post 6 Saturday and could be in line for a more favorable stalking journey.

Red Hot Diva finished third as the 6-5 favorite in the Hawkins and might have tailed off after hitting peak form in May and June. Cuppa Mocha Mojo won this race a year ago but has not looked like the same horse in her three most recent starts.

◗ The card opens with a wildly competitive edition of the $60,000 Dash for Cash, but race 2, the Vincent Moscarelli for 2-year-olds, has a heavy favorite in Unrideable. In the Fairway, who is in sharp form, is the 7-5 morning-line choice in race 3, the Onion Juice, but could finish only a tame fourth at odds of 5-2 in this race last year.

In race 4, the Lottery Breeders’ Classic for 3-year-olds, Bullets Fever, 7 for 7 in his career and untested in West Virginia-bred competition, is a likely odds-on favorite, but multirace bettors could be well served fishing for a price in race 5, the nine-furlong Distaff.

Race 6 is the $75,000 Division of Tourism, in which trainer Jeff Runco, who also has Navy Ribbon and Bullets Fever and could be in for a huge night, starts 6-5 morning-line favorite T Rex Express. The nightcap, the $75,000 Triple Crown Nutrition for 2-year-old fillies, looks wide open.