Researcher remains the king of the hill at Charles Town.
Facing a talented field that included Grade 2 winners Gone Astray and Awesome Gem, Researcher came close to matching the track record for 1 1/8 miles he set last year while winning the Charles Town Classic for the second straight time Saturday night.
Sent off as the 7-2 second choice, Researcher ($9.80) surpassed the million-dollar milestone in earnings by collecting the $600,000 winner's share of the $1 million purse in the richest ever run in West Virginia.
It was Researcher's 10th win in 14 lifetime starts at Charles Town and his first for his new owner, the Kinross Corporation of Zohar Ben-Dov. Kinross purchased the 6-year-old Researcher from Rutledge Farm earlier in the week, from the estater of Rutledge's founder Hermen Greenberg, who died in February.
Jeff Runco, who has trained Researcher throughout his 26-race career, said the gelding's fondness for Charles Town is clear.
"He loves this track and he runs well here," Runco said. "He's the best horse I've ever trained."
Researcher completed the nine furlongs on a track that produced fast times all evening in 1:49.94, just .18 of a second off the track record he set winning the local prep for last year's Classic, when it was worth $615,000. He finished 1 3/4 lengths in front of Awesome Gem, a Southern California shipper who won last year's Grade 2 Hawthorne Gold Cup. Redding Colliery, winner of the John Campbell Handicap at Laurel last time out in February, finished third at 7-1, three-quarters of a length behind Awesome Gem.
Understatement, the lukewarm favorite at 3-1, led for the first six furlongs despite clipping heels going into the first turn and backed up to fifth.
Jockey Luis Perez, who gave Researcher a patient ride, managed to overcome traffic trouble while boxed in behind the heels of Understatement coming into the final turn of the three-turn race.
"At the quarter pole there were horses backing up in front of me," Perez said. "But when I asked him, he responded. I looked back when I was in front in the stretch and saw another horse coming, but I had plenty of horse left."
* Pinkarella ($6.20) came within .09 of a second of the track record for seven furlongs in romping to a surprisingly easy 6 1/2-length victory over 4-5 favorite Sweet Goodbye in the $250,000 Sugar Maple Stakes for fillies and mares.
A 4-year-old filly who spent the first five races of her career racing on synthetic surfaces in Southern California, Pinkarella is now 2 for 3 since she was switched to dirt by trainer Doug O'Neill. Local rider Travis Dunkelberger, winning his second stakes on the card, sent Pinkarella to the lead on the first turn of the two-turn race and she drew off by while covering the seven furlongs in 1:23.38.
Sweet Goodbye, winner of the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie Handicap at Laurel in February, had to settle for second, snapping a three-race winning streak.
It was Pinkarella's first stakes victory and fourth win overall in 8 starts.
* Comedero ($4.20) cruised to his third consecutive stakes victory in the $100,000 Blue and Gold Stakes for 3-year-olds.
Ridden for the first time by Robby Albarado, Comedero drew off to win by nine lengths over Toboggan Slide while completing seven furlongs in 1:23.45, a mere .16 of a second off the track record.
It was the sixth win in seven lifetime starts for Comedero, a Mike Stidham-trained gelding who easily won his first two starts of the season in sprint stakes at Oaklawn Park.
* Ju Jitsu Jax ($6.20) split horses in deep stretch to get up by a head over defending champion Trust Or Bust in the $75,000 Webb Snyder Stakes.
J.D. Acosta sent Ju Jitsu Jax through a narrow opening and the 4-year-old colt prevailed in a three-way photo. Trust Or Bust got second by a neck over 12-1 longshot The Jackal.
Trained by Scott Lake, Ju Jitsu Jax has now won 7 of 15 lifetime, including the $100,000 West Virginia Sprint Derby last year. The winning time for 4.5 furlongs was 51.12 seconds.
The millionaire Joey P. never threatened after breaking slowly as the 4-5 favorite.
* Russell Road ($2.80), a seven-time stakes winner last season as a 3-year-old, snapped a two-race losing streak this year with 3.25-length score in the $50,000 Springtime Handicap for West Virginia-breds.
Ridden by Dunkelberger for trainer James W. Casey, Russell Road won for the 13th time in 18 lifetime starts, completing the seven furlongs in 1:24.67.