This year's edition of the Grade 2, $1.25 million Charles Town Classic at Charles Town features 2014 Classic winner Imperative (who also finished second in this race in 2015) and last year's winner Stanford, who beat Imperative by four lengths last year. Imperative beat Stanford in the Poseidon Handicap in January before a last-place finish in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap while Stanford won the Challenger Stakes in his most recent race. Recent Jazil Stakes and Stymie Stakes winner Sunny Ridge could be a strong contender, particularly as he could benefit from a fast early pace set by recent Harrison E. Johnson Memorial Stakes winner Matt King Coal, who has earned all four of his career wins leading from start to finish.
Sunny Ridge is a recently turned 4-year-old who has run the best two races of his career in his two starts this year. Winning the Jazil Stakes in January by nearly five lengths with a career-best 110 Equibase Speed Figure, Sunny Ridge bettered that to 111 with a strong rallying win in the Stymie Stakes last month at the distance of the Charles Town Classic. Jockey Manny Franco was in the saddle for both wins and rides Sunny Ridge again in the Classic, and although that last-race 111 figure effort would need to be improved upon to get to the 119 Imperative earned winning the 2014 Classic or the 118 figure Stanford earned winning this race last year, Sunny Ridge may still have improving to do and could post the mild upset in this year's Classic if he does.
Stanford gets the ground-saving rail for this year's Classic after a dominant win last year when he led from start to finish from the seven post. Last year, Stanford missed by a head in the Gulfstream Park Handicap with a career-best 123 speed figure effort before a 118 earned in this race. This year, Stanford enters the race off a win in the Challenger Stakes with a 118 figure so is in about the same top form as last year. However, Stanford has been first or second from the start in his last five races in which he has finished first or second. Although he can run well after leading early or pressing the pace, Stanford will have to deal with Matt King Coal from the moment the gate opens as that one has earned all four career wins leading from start to finish. Therefore for Stanford to earn a repeat win in the Classic, jockey John Velazquez will have to get him to settle in second from the start and stay close enough to Matt King Coal to be able to make the first move in the stretch then hold off Sunny Ridge and Imperative.
Imperative won this race with a rally from fifth in the early stages in 2014, with a then-career-best 119 figure. Winless and basically non-competitive in eight races after that, Imperative perked up to finish second in the 2015 Classic. He managed three more second-place finishes until winning a minor stakes last November. Two races later, in January of this year, Imperative won the Poseidon Handicap in Florida at the distance of the Classic, beating Stanford by a head in the process. Six weeks later in the Santa Anita Handicap, Imperative finished ninth, beaten 22 lengths in an inexplicably poor effort. Leaving California after that, Imperative put in two workouts at Keeneland and considering how he likes the track at Charles Town, he could very well return to competitive form good enough to win.
The rest of the field, with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures, is Bodhisattva (110), Cautious Giant (107), Gangster (109), Matt King Coal (109) and War Story (108).