03/24/2010 12:00AM

Researcher, Russell Road prep for Classic

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Two locally based hopefuls for next month's $1 million Charles Town Classic will tune up on Saturday night at Charles Town.

Defending champion Researcher and multiple stakes winner Russell Road are both entered in Saturday's eighth race, a 1 1/16-mile optional claimer that serves as the final local prep for the 1 1/8-mile Classic on April 17.

The 6-year-old Researcher, trained by Jeff Runco, will be following a similar path that worked so well last year, when he won an allowance race in track-record time and three weeks later captured the inaugural Classic by 2 1/4 lengths.

In his only start this season, Researcher finished a distant sixth in the one-mile Native Dancer at Laurel in January.

"It's been a tough winter," Runco said. "But our horse is doing well and I'd expect to see him run very well off his freshening."

Russell Road, recently honored as West Virginia-bred horse of the year for 2009, will be making his second start off a three-month layoff. In his first start of the season on Feb. 27, Russell Road tired to finish fifth, beaten 10 lengths, in an optional claiming race at Laurel.

"He was pretty short and wasn't ready for the race in Maryland", said Mark Russell, owner of the 4-year-old Russell Road. "But he got a lot out of it and we're looking forward to running against Researcher."

Researcher will break from the rail under jockey Luis Perez. Russell Road, trained by James W. Casey, will break next to Researcher under regular rider Travis Dunkelberger.

Nominations for the Charles Town Classic and $250,000 Sugar Maple will close on April 3.