04/22/2017 7:39PM

Imperative rallies late to win Charles Town Classic

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Imperative paid $12 in winning the Charles Town Classic on Saturday.

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - It wasn't easy, but Imperative won his second Charles Town Classic on Saturday and jockey Javier Castellano won his third.

On the final turn of the 1 1/8-mile Classic, and with only a little more than an eighth of a mile-stretch remaining, Imperative didn't appear the likely winner. Matt King Coal and Stanford were going at it on the lead, with Matt King Coal beginning to get the better of last year's Classic winner over the sloppy track.

But Imperative and War Story, both of whom race for the partnership of Ron Paolucci and Imaginary Stables, kept coming and Imperative steamed to the lead in deep stretch to win by a neck over Matt King Coal. It was a half-length farther back to War Story.

Paolucci and his partners had a third horse in the race, and while he finished a distant last in the eight-horse field, he was successful, too. He accomplished his task of assuring a lively pace for his stablemates. Stanford ultimately paid the price and finished fifth, beaten 4 3/4 lengths.

Bodhisattva, a 79-1 stone-cold closer, was up to finish fourth, three-quarters of a length ahead of Stanford.

Imperative paid $12 to win. He was timed in 1:53.05.

When Imperative won his first Classic in 2014 he was 4 and paid $55. He is now 7.

When the gates for the Classic opened, Stanford showed first, but he was soon joined by Cautious Giant. Matt King Coal settled nicely into third position. When Stanford disposed of Cautious Giant after six furlongs, Matt King Coal made his move under jockey Horacio Karamanos.

Stanford dug in when challenged, but ultimately could give no more. Matt King Coal kept digging in but came up just a hair short.

Castellano had won the Grade 2 Classic twice before for Todd Pletcher. He won last year on Stanford and in 2012 on Caixa Eletronica.

Castellano was riding Imperative in a race for the first time.

"I worked him at Keeneland and he went good," Castellano said. "He's the type of horse you have to help a little bit. I just kept after him."

Paolucci was ecstatic in the winner's circle, but also somewhat emotional. His father, Ron Sr., is having health problems and he mentioned several times the importance of family and how much he wished his father could have been on hand for the race.

Paolucci bought Imperative as a backup to War Story for the $12 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park and turned him over to trainer Bob Hess Jr. If War Story had been forced to miss the race for any reason, Imperative would take his place.

War Story finished fifth in the Pegasus, and on that day's undercard Imperative defeated Stanford by a head in the $400,000 Poseidon.

Although Paolucci said he was not allowed to divulge how much he paid for Imperative, he said the $238,000 Imperative earned in the Poseidon covered his expenses. That means the $703,800 he earned in Saturday's $1.25 million Charles Town Classic is gravy.

This is the fourth straight year Imperative has run in the Classic. In 2015, the year after his first victory in the race, he finished second. He was fourth a year ago. In his four Classic starts, Imperative has earned more than $2 million. In his other 34 starts, he has earned just shy of $900,000.

In between the Poseidon and the Charles Town Classic, Imperative finished last of nine in the Santa Anita Handicap. Hess and Paolucci said the West Coast tracks are hard on his feet. Imperative trained for the Charles Town Classic at Keeneland.

"I give Ron credit for letting us send him to Keeneland to train over their synthetic training track," Hess said. "That track is much easier on him. I would like to thank Michael Ann Ewing, a trainer at Keeneland for all of the help she gave us with this horse."

Paolucci said he wanted to keep Imperative in the east this summer and that the Grade 1, $1.2 million Metropolitan Handicap on the Belmont Stakes card June 10 was a likely next race for him.

** Despite rain throughout the day, the Charles Town Classic card had all-sources handle of $3,900,679, the fourth largest in track history. The handle was down from last year, however, when $4,424,048 was wagered.