04/16/2010 12:00AM

Gone Astray chases big payday

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Gone Astray had quite a lucrative 3-year-old campaign avoiding the heavyweights of the division, banking nearly $800,000. The bulk of that bankroll came from his 9 1/4-length victory in .

Gone Astray will seek to capture the winner's share of another seven-figure purse when he heads an overflow field entered in Saturday night's $1 million Charles Town Classic in West Virginia. Thirteen horses were entered in the Classic, a 1 1/8-mile race, though only 10 will be permitted to run. Charles Town is a six-furlong track, meaning the race will be run around three turns with an extremely short run into the first turn.

The Classic, one of five stakes on an 11-race program that begins at 6 p.m. Eastern, will be the second start of Gone Astray's 4-year-old campaign. In his seasonal debut, his first start in nearly four months, Gone Astray was beaten 4 3/4 lengths by Win Willy in at Oaklawn Park.

"I thought it was fine," trainer Shug McGaughey said. "At the three-eighths pole, he looked like he was going to win, and he kind of flattened out a little bit."

Robby Albarado rides Gone Astray from post 2.

Gone Astray would benefit from a lively pace, and he should get one in this race with the likes of Encaustic, Understatement, and Redding Colliery in the field.

Then there's Researcher, who won this race last year from a pace-pressing position. Researcher is 9 for 13 at Charles Town, having won his last five races over the strip, including four at 1 1/8 miles.

Though the competition is deeper than Researcher is used to facing, his trainer, Jeff Runco, said he believes Researcher's home-course advantage is huge.

"Horses comes in every year for that kind of purse, but I think the horse runs well here," Runco said. "He trains here. He's used to it. I think it gives him an advantage. I expect him to run well Saturday."

Researcher made the first 24 starts of his career for Rutledge Farm. But Hermen Greenberg, the founder of Rutledge Farm, died in February. His estate sold Researcher to Kinross Corp. of Zohar Ben-Dov.

Redding Colliery has won three of his last four starts dating back to last Oct. 29. His only loss during that span was a fourth-place finish in the Grade 3 Discovery in which Gone Astray was third. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said Redding Colliery hit his head against the gate just prior to the start of that race, which likely affected his performance.

Redding Colliery will break from post 10 under Anna Napravnik.

Understatement comes into the Charles Town Classic off two impressive wins in stakes over Aqueduct's inner track. His connections believe Understatement is more than just an inner-track specialist.

"This year, for whatever reason, he's peaked physically," said Jonathan Thomas, the New York-based assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher. "He's a very, very strong horse, hard to train."

Thomas said exercise riders Fernando Zanora, who gallops Understatement, and Hecot Ramos, who works him, have played a major role in "helping us to contain him."

David Cohen will ride Understatment from post 6.

Awesome Gem has run well on turf and synthetics, but he has done quite well in limited starts on dirt. In 2007, he finished third in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Last year, he won the Hawthorne Gold Cup. Most recently, he was third to Battle Plan in the New Orleans Handicap.

Completing the field are Fiddlers Afleet, who won last year's Oklahoma Derby; Encaustic, winner of two straight allowance races; and longshots Acting Zippy, Indian Dance, and No Advantage.