When the horses leave the gate at Charles Town for the first race on May 14, they’ll become one of the first American tracks to resume operations after closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The West Virginia track hasn’t raced since March 21, but they were given the green light to return last week, without fans.
While the track is well-known to a certain sect of horseplayers, it isn’t a household name among most racing fans. Here’s a look at what you need to know before opening night.
Charles Town is a unique track. The dirt surface is only three-quarters of a mile around, with no grass track. As such, 6 ½-furlong and 7-furlong races, usually thought of as one-turn races, are run around two turns. Charles Town’s 1 1/16-mile and 1 ⅛-mile races are conducted around three turns. The track also runs lots of races at 4 ½ furlongs, the only track to consistently run races that short.
WHEN THEY RACE
The first race will go off at about 7 p.m. ET, making Charles Town the first nighttime Thoroughbred track to race in several weeks. Racing will be conducted on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. There are eight races per night, with the last race usually going off at about 10:45 p.m. ET.
Charles Town offers the standard menu of win/place/show, exacta, trifecta, and superfecta wagers. There are “rolling” doubles and Pick 3s offered on every race, as well as two Pick 4s per night. The early Pick 4 begins in Race 1; the late Pick 5 kicks off with the fifth race. Both are a 50-cent minimum bet. With no Thoroughbred competition for now, you can expect large pool sizes for both wagers.
In addition, Charles Town also offers the “6-12” jackpot Pick 6 bet. The wager features 12% takeout and a 20-cent minimum bet. It begins in Race 3 every night.
There will be a bevy of West Virginia-bred stakes in the coming weeks. The It’s Binn Too Long Stakes for state-bred 3-year-old fillies at 4 ½ furlongs will be held on May 22. There also is the Coin Collector Stakes for 3-year-old males on May 23, the Original Gold Stakes for older females on May 29, and the Confucius Say Stakes for older males on May 30.
JOCKEYS AND TRAINERS TO WATCH
The big dogs in the jockey’s room at Charles Town are Arnaldo Bocachica and Denis Arujo. Bocachica was far and away the best jockey at the track in 2019, winning 182 races from 558 mounts. That’s exactly double what runner-up Cristian Hiraldo had. So far this year, Bocachica hasn’t lost a step, with 43 victories and a 29% strike rate.
Arujo, sixth in the jockey standings last year, has burst on the scene this year. He holds a three-win advantage in the standings over Bocachica, although Bocachica has the advantage in win percentage (29% to 20%).
Bocachica generally rides for Jeff Runco, the king of Charles Town trainers. Runco won the training title in a runaway last year, training 67 more winners than the runner-up. He’s on top this year once again with 29 winners, but Ronney Brown is giving him a run for the money. Brown’s in second place with 23 victories so far.
Bocachica and Runco had decent success in March: they teamed up for four winners from 15 starts, good for a 26.6% win percentage.
Early speed is always a good thing, no matter where you are. At Charles Town, however, early speed is an extremely valuable asset.
Consider: out of the 80 races run in March, 29 of them were won by a horse who led from start to finish. An additional 21 were won by a horse within two lengths of the lead after the opening quarter-mile. That makes for 62.5% of races won by a front-running horse. It makes sense given the large number of sprint races at Charles Town — 70 races were run at less than a mile — but is still something to keep in mind. Don’t be fooled by a good-looking closer; they’re up against it.
TWITTER ACCOUNTS TO FOLLOW
The primary account of the track is @RaceCharlesTown.