CHESTER - A field of nine has drawn in for Tuesday's 12th running of the $85,000 Sophomore Sprint Championship at Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort. The six-furlong event for 3-year-olds will be the finale of the stakes offerings for Mountaineer's 2013 season.
Take It Like a Man, winner of five of his last six starts, will likely be one of the post-time favorites. In his most recent outing, the colt was a 1-length winner of the $400,000 Researcher Stakes at Charles Town on Sept. 21. Deshawn Parker will ride Take It Like a Man on Tuesday for trainer Kellyn Gorder.
In the Fairway, winner at 2-5 odds of a $58,500 West Virginia Breeders Classics event at Charles Town on Oct. 19, has been entered in Tuesday's feature by trainer Jeff Runco. In the Fairway has won eight of his 14 career starts. He is a West Virginia-bred, whose resume includes stakes scores in both state-restricted and open company.
The field further includes Black Hornet, a multiple stakes winner at Woodbine, who has also placed Grade 3 company; Smash and Grab, a stakes winner at Delaware Park; the multiple allowance winners Patrick S and Go Duke Go; stakes-placed First Frost; the allowance winner Musicinthehouse; and the Keeneland maiden winner Gunderson.
The Sophomore Sprint Championship has a history dating back to 2001, when Native Heir won the inaugural edition with jockey Mario Pino aboard. Owned and trained by Anthony Dutrow, Native Heir led wire-to-wire and clocked a final time of 1:09.33, which remains the stakes record.
Since then, with the exception of the 2005 season (when it was on hiatus for a year), the Sophomore Sprint Championship has been a regular mid-autumn feature on the Mountaineer schedule.
"It takes a while - usually a couple of decades - for a stakes race to build a tradition," said Mark Patterson, assistant racing secretary at Mountaineer and co-host of the track's in-house handicapping show.
"Tradition is primarily defined by quality horses. Fabulous Strike, who won the Sophomore Sprint Championship in 2006, went on to be a Grade 1 winner, won four other graded stakes and earned $1.45 million in purses.
"Ravalo, who won the race in 2007, went on to be a multiple Grade 3 winner, won 13 stakes all told and earned $1.25 million in purses. Fabulous Strike and Ravalo provide the foundation blocks for the Sophomore Sprint's tradition. And every year, we work on fortifying it."
Front-running speedsters have done well in the race. In 2004, the 8-5 favorite Danieltown, ridden by Chad Murphy, led from start to finish, widening his lead to a stakes-record 10 lengths at the wire. Fabulous Strike, who was an odds-on wagering choice, wired the field with jockey Dana Whitney aboard, prevailing by 8 lengths.
Then, too, what handicappers refer to as "deep closers" have had their moments. In the 2003 Sophomore Sprint Championship, Gimmeawink was fourth, trailing by six lengths, and seemed hopelessly blocked by other horses near the inside rail with a furlong remaining.
But jockey James Lopez guided Gimmeawink to the outside, and the colt closed in the manner of a high-speed missile to gain victory by a half-length. The victorious trainer, Tim Ritchey, said he was "downright astonished." It continues to be regarded as one of the most remarkable finishes in Mountaineer stakes history.
Last year's Sophomore Sprint Championship was won by the 11-10 favorite Captain Genius, who held his opponents at bay at every call to win by 8 lengths in a time of 1:10.61. Parker was the winning jockey and Joe Woodard was the winning trainer.
This year's race sets up with Black Hornet, Go Duke Go and Smash and Grab being likely pacesetters; with Take It Like a Man and First Frost closing in the stretch. The Sophomore Sprint Championship will be the ninth of 10 races on Tuesday's card.
Post time for the first race is 7 p.m.