04/19/2014 10:50PM

Imperative outguns Game On Dude in Charles Town Classic

Coady Photography
Imperative, ridden by Kent Desormeaux, connects at 26-1 odds in the Charles Town Classic.

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Despite watching Imperative get beat nearly 18 lengths by Game On Dude in last month’s Santa Anita Handicap, trainer George Papaprodromou didn’t lose faith in the 4-year-old gelding he claimed last December for $50,000.

Papaprodromou - and his owner Kenji Morinagia - were rewarded for that faith to the tune of $1 million as Imperative, ridden by Hall of Famer Kent Desormeaux, ran by Game On Dude in the final furlong to win Saturday night’s $1.5 million Charles Town Classic by 1 1/2 lengths. Game on Dude, who won this race last year, finished second by 1 1-2 lengths over Moreno. It was two lengths back to Clubhouse Ride, who was followed in the order of finish by Long River, Ruler of Love, and Lucy’s Bob Boy.

Sent off at 26-1, Imperative returned $55 to win. The winner’s share of the $1.5 million purse was $1 million, nearly 10 times what Imperative’s earnings were entering the race.

The win was the third from 15 career starts for Imperative, a gelding by Bernardini. It was his first for these connections in five starts.

“I always believed in this horse. I always liked the way he was training,” said Papaprodromou, who is based at Santa Anita. “He’s a great horse, well bred and all that. I shipped him cross country to prove it.”

Papaprodromou was willing to dismiss Imperative’s non-effort in the Santa Anita Handicap because the gelding run such a strong race when second to Blingo in the Grade 2 San Antonio, finishing six lengths in front of Game On Dude, who was fifth.

“I beat Game On Dude in the San Antonio. I knew my horse bounced in the Santa Anita Handicap and here we are,” Papaprodromou said.

Desormeaux had Imperative next to last early on as Game On Dude dueled outside Moreno through a quarter-mile in 23.47 seconds and a half-mile in 46.85.

Imperative dragged Imperative to just behind the leaders with 4 1/2 furlongs remaining.

Moreno backed off the pace, but Game On Dude was tackled by Long River, ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr.

Imperative made a three-wide move toward the leaders, poked a head in front turning for home, and gradually edged clear of Game On Dude, who also finished second in this race in 2011 to Duke of Mischief.

“The second turn I was running over the top of them,” Desormeaux said. “I pitched him out and he took off and ran even faster, got to them, put his nose on their rump. I slowed him down. He got that big breather from the three-eighths to inside the quarter. By the time we got to the eighth pole, I hadn’t even asked him yet, and he was already passing them. When I cued them he just exploded.”

Imperative covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.56.

Last year, when Game On Dude won the Classic, Smith said he felt the horse wasn’t getting a hold of the track, in part due to the fact he wore glue-on shoes. Game On Dude wore regular shoes on Saturday but Smith said he still felt Game On Dude struggled with the track.

“The first turn I said ‘it ain’t the shoes,’ “ Smith said. “He just doesn’t ever get a hold of it and get over the top of it. [Long River] made an early move at us, trying to beat us of course, which probably cost me some, but the winner seemed to get a hold of it a whole lot better than we did. … We’ll live to fight again.”