03/04/2011 11:53AM

Researcher stops steeplechase training, targets third Charles Town Classic win

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Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Researcher is targeting a third straight Charles Town Classic victory.

After winning the Charles Town Classic for the second straight year last April, Researcher was sent to begin a second career as a steeplechaser by his new owners, Zohar Ben-Dov’s Kinross Corporation.

In an unusual change of plans, the 7-year-old Researcher is being brought back to flat racing in a bid to capture the $1 million Charles Town Classic for a third time on April 16.

As an indication of how well Researcher’s comeback is progressing, he worked a best-of-23 half-mile in 48 seconds on Feb. 24 at Laurel Park.
According to Ben-Dov, Researcher didn’t show a lot of promise as a jumper, so Plan B became a return to the racetrack, where he compiled nearly $1.4 million in earnings. The first major target is the Charles Town Classic, now a Grade 3 event.

“The goal is to get him there,” Ben-Dov said. “We hope to run him once in a prep race before then and bring him back in April.”

Following his victory in the Grade 3 Queens County at Aqueduct in December 2008 and a 22 1/2-length allowance win in track-record time at Charles Town, Researcher took the inaugural Charles Town Classic in 2009 for owner Herman Greenberg. However, weeks before Researcher’s attempt to defend his Charles Town Classic title in 2010, Greenberg died, leading to the dispersal of his stable.

In the same week the 2010 Charles Town Classic was run, it was announced that Researcher had been sold by Greenberg’s estate and would wear the Kinross Corporation’s colors during his title defense. Despite the change in ownership, the result remained the same as Researcher beat all challengers in the 1 1/8-mile race, including eventual Hollywood Gold Cup winner Awesome Gem and Hawthorne Gold Cup winner Redding Colliery.

Although Researcher is on the comeback trail, he will not be reunited with his former trainer, Jeff Runco. The horse is now conditioned by Kinross’s steeplechase trainer, Neil Morris, who has been overseeing Researcher’s training at Kinross Farm, a 500-acre Thoroughbred facility near Upperville, Va.

“We have an all-weather track here, similar to the one in Kentucky,” Ben-Dov said. “He’s been doing well here, and we sent him to Laurel for his first work.”

While getting a horse ready to face some of the top handicap horses in racing off a year-long layoff is a big enough challenge, there also is the question of whether Researcher will be able to get into the field. The first preference for the Charles Town Classic is given to graded stakes winners in the last two years, with the second preference going to those with the highest amount of graded stakes earnings since April 16, 2009. The long layoff has left Researcher without a graded stakes win and only $28,100 in graded earnings over that time frame.