10/13/2011 12:36PM

Charles Town: Sea Rescue targets repeat in West Virginia Breeders’ Classic

Mike Montgomery
Sea Rescue is seeking a repeat victory in the West Virginia Breeders’ Classic at Charles Town.

The last three winners of the West Virginia Breeders’ Classic – Sea Rescue, Russell Road, and Ghostly Thunder – are back in quest of the $500,000 purse up for grabs in the richest race on Saturday night’s 25th annual program devoted to West Virginia-breds at Charles Town.

The Classic goes as race 8 on an all-stakes, nine-race card worth a collective $1.3 million, with post time set for 10:45 p.m. Eastern.

As a 4-year-old last season, Sea Rescue pulled off the biggest upset in the Classic’s history when he connected at 57-1. He lost seven subsequent starts, but comes into Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile, three-turn race off a 24-1 upset in a 6 1/2-furlong allowance.

Jeff Runco, Charle Town’s leading trainer and the owner-breeder of Sea Rescue, is optimistic his horse can repeat.

“He’s probably coming into the race better than he did last year,” Runco said. “He ran a bang-up race winning his last start and did it at a distance that isn’t his best.”

J.D. Acosta will ride Sea Rescue for the first time, breaking from post 4 in a full field of 10.

Two years ago, Russell Road went 5 for 5 against statebred company, capped by an eight-length romp in the Classic. He finished fourth as the 1-10 favorite in last year’s Classic and lost three straight races sprinting between June and August of this season, but the 5-year-old perked up when stretched out to 1 1/16 miles last time and scored by two lengths in an allowance.

“Russell definitely showed a vast improvement,” said owner Mark Russell, who noted that trainer James W. Casey put the gelding on a more rigorous training schedule after a loss at 1-5 in the seven-furlong Frank Gall on Aug. 20.

“We started training him a little harder than we had been, and he’s responded,” Russell said. “He ran great, he’s training great.”

Russell Road, 18 for 30 lfietime with earnings of $919,624, can surpass the million-dollar mark if he wins the Classic for a second time.

Since winning the 2008 Classic as the 6-5 favorite, Ghostly Thunder has struggled. He was a distant fifth in each of the last two Classics and is just 2 for 18 since his Classic victory, with his only victory this year coming in an $8,000 claimer. Now 6, Ghostly Thunder will be making his second start off a $10,000 claim for trainer Dewayne Johnson.

Among the others in the field, the most dangerous might be Black Belt. Third in last year’s Classic as a 3-year-old, Black Belt broke a 10-race losing streak Sept. 1, when he earned a career-best 95 Beyer Speed Figure over the Tapeta at Presque Isle Downs and followed up with a three-length score in an optional claimer at Thistledown.

Trainer Gerald Bennett said he believes Black Belt is peaking at the right time after learning to rate.

“I’ve gotten him to relax rather than having him use up all of his energy early,” Bennett said. “He’ll still be laying close, but he’s just a much better horse for this distance right now.”