04/14/2015 1:05PM

Moreno's speed to be on display in Charles Town Classic

Barbara D. Livingston
Moreno will try to improve on his third-place finish in last year's Charles Town Classic.

When the gates open for the $1.5 million Charles Town Classic on Saturday, it won’t be difficult to find Moreno. He’s going to be the horse on the lead.

“If you are in front of us early, you are probably going too fast,” trainer Eric Guillot said.

Moreno’s two biggest wins have come in the Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga last summer and the Grade 2 Dwyer at Belmont Park in 2013. Both were accomplished on the front end.

While extremely talented, Moreno has his quirks, and in 25 starts has eight seconds and only three wins. Moreno’s runner-up efforts include the Travers, Woodward, Suburban, and Pennsylvania Derby. He has earned more than $2 million.

“This horse never gets tired, but he waits on horses,” Guillot said. “That’s why I’ve got him in the blinkers, with the ear plugs. That’s why it took him 10 starts to break his maiden. You ever see a horse take 10 starts to break his maiden and then win more than $2 million? It is rare, very rare.”

Moreno had chips removed from both of his front ankles following the Breeders’ Cup Classic last fall. In his first start back, he finished second, beaten 4 1/2 lengths by Shared Belief, in the Santa Anita Handicap.

“He’s got that much talent,” Guillot said. “That’s how I could bring him off a four-month layoff to finish second going a mile and a quarter in the Big Cap.”

Moreno’s bad habits might have cost him the win in his second and most recent start of the year, the New Orleans Handicap at Fair Grounds. Moreno relaxed just off the pace, took the lead outside Albano turning into the stretch, and opened up about a one-length lead in upper stretch. It looked like the race was over.

But in midstretch, Albano started to come on again. He put his head in front of Moreno’s from the inside nearing the wire just as 22-1 longshot Call Me George went by on the outside for a half-length upset. The final furlong went in a slow 14.24 seconds. In retrospect, Moreno might have come back to the pack more than he was run down.

Cornelio Velasquez will ride Moreno for the first time in the Charles Town Classic, and you can guess what Guillot’s instructions will be.

“I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel,” he said. “I don’t want him relaxing off any cheap speed. I want him on the lead.”

Moreno finished third to Imperative and Game On Dude in last year’s Charles Town Classic after running an erratic race. On the lead early, he relinquished command to Game On Dude on the second turn and then dropped several lengths off the pace. He was running hard again at the finish.

Guillot said Moreno might have been bothered by shadows that night and is glad this year’s Classic will be run during the day. Guillot, 53, also said 1 1/8 miles over the six-furlong Charles Town track suits Moreno.

“Charles Town is good for this horse because it is three turns and a short stretch,” he said. “He gets going, and he doesn’t know when to start waiting.”

Since Moreno is a Grade 1 winner, Guillot and owner-breeder Mike Moreno will split a $50,000 bonus for running in the Classic. Guillot planned to ship Moreno from California to Kentucky on Wednesday and then van him to West Virginia on Thursday.

Guillot plans to freshen Moreno after the Charles Town Classic. His major summer goal will be a defense of his Whitney title.

“I’m going to give him two months off and then start pointing him to the Whitney,” he said. “He’ll run before that, but the Whitney is the goal. How good would that be?”