04/22/2014 12:34PM

Jerardi: Winning Image has found her niche

Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Winning Image won the Primonetta Stakes on Saturday at Pimlico.

Winning Image began her career with four blowout wins at Suffolk Downs in 2009 and 2010, sandwiched around a second in a Finger Lakes stakes race. She then lost her first five starts in the Mid-Atlantic region. Then, she started winning and winning and winning.

From November 2011 until last Saturday at Pimlico, Winning Image won nine stakes at four tracks – four at Parx, where she is stabled for trainer Mike Aro, two at Laurel Park, two at Delaware Park, and finally the $100,000 Primonetta Stakes at Pimlico a month before the Preakness.

All told, the 7-year-old mare has won 13 of 27 races and earned $650,137. There is fast, and then there is Winning Image fast. She has been in front at the first call in 25 of her 27 races. She was second by a length in the other two starts. Her career-best Beyer Speed Figure was a 98 when she won the 2011 Cornucopia Stakes at Parx. She has eight 90-plus Beyers in her career and has five wins, two seconds, and a third when running that fast.

Winning Image has been ridden in her last two starts by Tony Black, one of the great front-running jockeys in history. Black, 62, got win No. 5,206 on Saturday. It was a year ago when he announced that win No. 5,200 would be his final ride. He came back to ride on Pennsylvania Derby Day and has taken a few mounts since then.

The semiretired Black has just 17 wins from 2011-14. He had 257 in 1992 alone. He only rides when he really likes something. He has to love Winning Image.

Winning Image has been brilliantly managed throughout her career by Aro and owner Martin Scafidi. Only twice was she raced outside her comfort zone, $75,000 to $150,000 ungraded stakes. They just keep knocking out purse after purse.

Even after all the winning, there are still many nonbelievers. She was 7-2 in her wins under Black. She has only been favored twice in her last 22 starts. She won both, naturally.

Huge night at Charles Town

It turned out that the Charles Town Classic was no walkover for Game On Dude. On paper, the $6 million horse certainly had some legitimate challengers – Clubhouse Ride, second in the 2013 Classic by a half-length; Dwyer Stakes winner Moreno; the hot Long River; West Virginia-bred star Lucy’s Bob Boy.

Well, the Dude took care of all of them but had no answer for 26-1 Imperative, who came into the race with two wins and earnings of $134,620. After running down the Dude in the stretch, Imperative now has three wins and more earnings in 2014, with the $1 million first prize, than any horse in North America.

Trainer George Papaprodromou claimed the son of 2006 Preakness winner Bernardini for $50,000 from Darley on Dec. 21. When he was the same 26-1 in the San Antonio Stakes, he ran by a floundering Game On Dude and got second. That certainly looked like a fluke when the Dude subsequently beat him by nearly 18 lengths in the Santa Anita Handicap.

Apparently, it was a sign, not a fluke. Imperative got a then-career-best 98 Beyer in the San Antonio. He just got a 107 in the Charles Town Classic. His last five Beyers, all since the claim, are 86, 86, 98, 90, and 107, all better than any number he had ever done.

The Charles Town fans not only saw a big upset, they also got great performances on a terrific card that prompted rubber bands to come off bankrolls around the country. The track handled $3,278,605 on its 14-race card, including $875,678 on the Classic.

Bobby Abbo dies

Anyone who spent any time at the Maryland tracks or Charles Town knew Bobby Abbo, a great athlete at Georgetown Prep (class of 1963) and a man who made hundreds of friends through his Washington restaurant, then tavern, and his Poor Robert’s Charities.

Abbo died at age 70 over the weekend. He was so popular with the Washington sporting set that he was mentioned at the end of ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption” on Monday. The owner absolutely loved the horses, especially his own amazing Immortal Eyes.

Immortal Eyes, 9, ran second in the Charles Town Dash on Saturday, his 50th career race. The horse has 19 wins, 14 seconds, and earnings of $1.1 million. His biggest win came last September in the De Francis Memorial Dash.