04/02/2013 12:15PM

Dick Jerardi: Charles Town Classic, with $1 million prize to winner, luring top runners

Shigeki Kikkawa
Game On Dude, the runner-up in the 2011 Charles Town Classic, is scheduled to take another crack at the race April 20.

It is one thing to put a $1 million stakes race on your calendar. It is another to make that race worth $1 million to the winner. That is what they have done with the now $1.5 million Charles Town Classic, scheduled for its fifth running April 20.

“Last year, we filled the gate with graded winners,” said Erich Zimny, vice president of racing operations for Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races. “There wasn’t a single Grade 1 winner amongst them. We felt for the race to take the next step it needed to, that we had to do something to lure the cream of the crop of the division. And that’s when we made the call to bump up the purse and give the flat million to the winner – [it] might be more appealing to those types of horses.”

The CT Classic had drawn progressively stronger fields each year. This promises to be the strongest yet, with Game On Dude scheduled to ship east for the race.

Game On Dude was second in the 2011 CT Classic before going on to dominate Southern California handicap racing last year and turning in two of the best performances anywhere in the country so far in 2013, when he won the San Antonio Stakes and the Santa Anita Handicap. If he does come, the Classic will get a horse who has won more than $3.7 million and five Grade 1 stakes.

Local star Researcher won the first two Classics. In 2011, Duke of Mischief won it, but three of the horses he beat – Game On Dude, Tizway, and Acclamation – were the finalists for champion older horse honors that year.

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Todd Pletcher shipped in Caixa Eletronica to win the 2012 Classic, and the horse is scheduled to defend his crown. But there is no doubt that Game On Dude would be the star attraction.

“It’s a different horse than was here two years ago,” Zimny said. “We frankly have had some good horses, but never a horse coming in with this type of r é sum é and this stature off a win like he’s coming off of, which was just incredible. I would expect the place to be jammed.”

Game On Dude won the San Antonio by 6 1/2 lengths and the Big Cap by 7 3/4 lengths, earning Beyer Speed Figures of 116 and 117.

The CT Classic was run in 2011 as a Grade 3 race, the first graded event in the 77-year history of the West Virginia track. It became a Grade 2 for 2012.

Did Zimny ever think the race would come this far, this fast?

“Honestly, we thought it was a good game plan,” he said. “We were confident in the spot that we had chosen being a good one on the calendar for a major race like this. But I’d be lying if I said in the third year of the race we thought we’d get the three Eclipse finalists for older male.”

Ortiz, McMahon win Laurel titles

Apprentice rider Yomar Ortiz took the jockey title at the 50-day Laurel Park winter meet, which ended Saturday. Ortiz, 21, won 57 races, six more than fellow apprentice Trevor McCarthy, who finished second.

Ortiz won races for 19 different trainers, including 16 for Hugh McMahon. That former jockey and Scott Lake assistant topped the trainer standings with 34 winners, 17 more than Mike Trombetta and Juan Vazquez. He won with 32 percent of his starters.

Hello Lover wins Parx awards

Hello Lover, the 7-year-old gelding, was named 2012 champion older horse, best claim, and Horse of the Year at Parx Racing during the track’s annual awards banquet March 20. Claimed for $7,500 on Jan. 3, 2012, by Butch Reid for Kasey K Racing Stable, Hello Lover subsequently made 16 starts, with 8 wins, 3 seconds, and 2 thirds for earnings of almost $300,000.

The nearly all-white horse became a fan favorite because he was so recognizable and because he often looked hopelessly beaten before rallying to win.

She’s Ordained hot at Penn National

It’s still early in the year, but She’s Ordained, a 4-year-old filly, is off to a terrific start. Claimed for $7,500 by trainer Tim Kreiser for owner Ronald Ulrich on Nov. 29, she won three weeks later and has already earned $44,000 in three starts this year.

She was second in a first-level allowance, followed by a six-length win at that level and a 12-length win in an optional claimer. She earned the three best Beyers of her career in those races, a 78, an 84, and an 80.