04/19/2016 1:34PM

For Sonny Inspired, now is the time to shoot for the stars

Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Sonny Inspired wins the Ben's Cat on March 19. Next up: the $1.25 million Charles Town Classic.

At age 5, and almost 30 starts into his career, Sonny Inspired is peaking for trainer Phil Schoenthal. Still, it was a bit surprising when Schoenthal said in the winner's circle following the Ben's Cat Stakes at Laurel Park that Sonny Inspired would be pointed to the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic.

Sonny Inspired has made his mark as a closing sprinter and hasn't tried a distance beyond seven furlongs since June 2014. The Classic is 1 1/8 miles and requires navigating three turns over the six-furlong Charles Town track.

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But Schoenthal is known for thinking outside the box. He is the guy who built a hydroponic greenhouse into the side of his Laurel Park barn so he could grow sprouted feed, or fodder, to supplement his horses' diets. Schoenthal made a significant investment last year to purchase and install a cold-seawater equine spa at his stable.

Schoenthal, 38, said there are several reasons why he and owner Matt Dorman decided to target the Classic with Sonny Inspired. First of all, there isn’t a sprint stakes in the region between the March 19 Ben's Cat and Preakness Day, May 21. Also, Sonny Inspired's last three races - victories in the Ben's Cat and Fire Plug stakes and a third in the Grade 3 General George - suggest now is the time to aim high.

And then there is the race's $1.25 million purse.

"The horse physcially is just blossoming," Schoenthal said. "He's eating better than he ever has before. He's just picture-perfect pristine right now. He's just doing superior."

To prepare Sonny Inspired for the added distance of the Charles Town Classic, Schoenthal said he has been doing "a lot of interval training with him."

Sonny Inspired's past performances show one workout since the Ben's Cat, a half-mile breeze of 50.80 seconds at Laurel on April 9. Schoenthal said Sonny Inspired began that work after he had two-minute-licked a mile.

"It doesn’t look like much on paper, but it was a pretty serious work," Schoenthal said.

Last Sunday, with jockey Jevian Toledo up, Schoenthal blew out Sonny Inspired a quarter-mile on the tail end of a 2 1/2-mile gallop.

"He went in 24 and galloped out in 36," Schoenthal said. "It was pretty impressive. When we decided to look to the Classic, I told Matt, 'If he's a dyed-in-the-wool sprinter, we're not going to be able to do it, but let's try and then we'll decide.' I've been very pleased with how he's responded to it all."

Schoenthal is best known as the trainer of Miss Behaviour, a Grade 2-winning sprinter of $790,000, who finished second in both the Grade 1 Test and Grade 2 Prioress at Saratoga in 2014. Miss Behaviour's richest win came in the Grade 3 Charles Town Oaks, which was a $500,000 race the year she won.

Dorman and Schoenthal bought Sonny Inspired for $20,000 at the 2012 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic yearling sale. He has earned $361,000.

"The reality is I can't count on another Sonny Inspired or Miss Behaviour coming along," Schoenthal said. "When I get a good horse, I have to manage them to the best of my ability."

Schoenthal pointed out that the Charles Town Classic has had its share of upsets.

Game On Dude won the 2013 Charles Town Classic but the following year finished second at 3-5 to Imperative, a 26-1 longshot. In a freak accident last year, Shared Belief stumbled at the start, injured himself, and was pulled up midway through the race as the 3-10 favorite.

"That's why they just don't pay you at the entry box," Schoenthal said. "You have to run to have a chance."