04/17/2017 12:16PM

Paolucci taking three shots at Charles Town Classic

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Michael Amoruso
Imperative will make his fourth consecutive appearance in the Charles Town Classic.

The field for the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic was still coming together Monday, with nine likely starters, but owner Ron Paolucci’s plans are set. He is going to run Imperative, War Story, and Cautious Giant.

This will be Imperative’s fourth straight appearance in the Classic. He scored a 26-1 upset in 2014 over Game On Dude and Moreno. He was second to Moreno in 2015 and finished fourth behind Stanford last year.

Imperative has raced 37 times but in those three races has earned $1.34 million of his $2.2 million bankroll. He is certain to handle the tight configuration of the six-furlong Charles Town oval and negotiate the three turns of the 1 1/8-mile Classic.

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Paolucci, who races as Loooch Racing, and Imaginary Stables bought the 7-year-old Imperative in January as a Pegasus World Cup backup in case anything went awry with War Story. In his first start for Paolucci, Imperative won the $400,000 Poseidon Handicap on the Pegasus undercard at Gulfstream Park for trainer Bob Hess Jr. He earned $238,000.

“When we bought him, we knew the Charles Town Classic was down the line for him because he likes the track so much,” Paolucci said.

Imperative won the Poseidon by a head over Stanford, who likely will be the favorite in Saturday’s $1.25 million race. Stanford has since won the $100,000 Challenger Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs for Todd Pletcher.

Other horses pointing to the Classic include Sunny Ridge, who has won the Stymie and Jazil stakes at Aqueduct for Jason Servis in his most recent starts; Matt King Coal, who has won two in a row and is trained by Linda Rice; Gangster, trained by Doug O’Neill; and Laurel Park-based Bodhisattva, trained by Jose Corrales.

Bob Baffert has a handful of horses for the Classic and Saturday’s Grade 2 Californian at Santa Anita and is expected to send recent Santana Mile winner Collected to Charles Town.

Stanford won last year’s Classic on the front end after setting comfortable fractions. To make sure that didn’t happen in the Poseidon, Imaginary Stables started Ranger in Paradise, who kept Stanford busy on the lead early. That role could fall to the sprinter Cautious Giant in the Classic.

Paolucci claimed Cautious Giant for $62,500 at Santa Anita in early March. He considered running him back nine days later in the Santa Anita Handicap, along with Imperative, who finished last of nine, but ultimately skipped the race. Cautious Giant is based at Thistledown with trainer Jeffrey Radosevich.

“There is no reason not to run in the Classic because horses who have finished first, second, or third in a graded stakes earn $20,000 regardless of where they finish,” Paolucci said. “I don’t want Stanford to get an easy lead, but now with Matt King Coal in there, the pace should be more than fair.”

War Story finished fifth of 12 in the $12 million Pegasus and earned $250,000. He has since finished fifth in the Grade 3 Fred Hooper at Gulfstream and is based at Gulfstream Park West with trainer Jorge Navarro.

“The Pegasus may have knocked him out a little, but he’s doing good now,” Paolucci said.

War Story worked a bullet five furlongs in 1:00 at Gulfstream West last Saturday. Tyler Gaffalione has the mount.

Javier Castellano, who was up for Imperative’s six-furlong workout at Keeneland last Thursday, will ride Imperative in the Classic, according to Paolucci. Jacob Radosevich will be aboard Cautious Giant.

Paolucci, 47, splits his time between Texas and Akron, Ohio. He does some consulting in the staffing industry but said he now spends 90 percent of his time gambling and managing his stable of almost 100 horses.

Determining if War Story or Imperative has a better chance in the Charles Town Classic isn’t easy, even for Paolucci.

“I have trouble separating them,” he said. “Imperative may have a little edge because he likes the track, but War Story may be a little better horse.”