CHARLES TOWN, W.VA., SEPT. 11 -- Onion Juice, long the pride of Charles Town's heretofore glamorless racing circuit, tonight ended his career on the biggest night in the track's 53-year history. In the bright lights of a photo finish, the gritty 7-year-old hung on to beat Bob's Boomer by a head and win the $100,000 Jim Beam Breeders Classic, this state's richest thoroughbred race ever.
Famous Comic was third, 3 1/2 lengths back. Onion Juice ran the 1 1/8 miles on the five-furlong track in 1:55 3/5.
After the race, co-owner/trainer Charles (Buck) Woodson said he will retire Onion Juice and likely stand him at stud -- an attractive addition to the state's breeding industry, which tonight's racing card was designed to promote. The $45,000 payoff made Onion Juice, by Quartermaster out of the mare Menage, a lifetime winner of $220,148.
"People have been after me for several years to breed to him, because he's real popular in West Virginia," Woodson said. "He'll enjoy it more, and I'll enjoy it more."
Onion Juice had entered the race with 25 victories in 60 career starts -- a 42 percent success rate -- yet was a 4-to-1 choice of the 7,518 in attendance, many of whom questioned Onion Juice's ability to go the distance. There was no doubting his speed, however, and jockey William Lewis Jr. used it to his advantage.
Onion Juice was supposed to be hard-pressed for the lead by Delaware-based favorite Kiss My Tan (9 to 5) and late-blooming 9-year-old Bob's Boomer, the 2-to-1 favorite. But Onion Juice had little trouble outrunning them early, thereby controlling the race.
Passing the wire the first time, Lewis advanced Onion Juice past leader Gilded Rooster on the inside and saved ground through the second turn. Kiss My Tan followed him along the rail, with Bob's Boomer flanked to his right.
Midway through the backstretch, Kiss My Tan fell back, and a potential rags-to-riches story was put to rest. On March 9, the 4-year-old Cortan colt ran in a $5,000 claiming race at Pimlico. One month later, he was claimed by trainer Larry Metz Jr. for $8,500 and taken from the claiming ranks to allowance races, winning twice.
Tonight, however, he was unable to cope with Onion Juice's pace of 48 3/5 seconds and 1:14 4/5. And when he began losing ground into the final turn, it became a three-horse race between Onion Juice, Bob's Boomer and the rallying Famous Comic.
The Classic was supported by four other West Virginia Breeders Fund races, each with a $25,000 purse. Former Washington Redskins star Sam Huff, a West Virginia resident and thoroughbred owner/breeder, fashioned the Breeders Classic after the Maryland Million. "Someday, I hope we can send one of our young horses to Kentucky, to bring home the Kentucky Derby," Huff said. "I hope to see that."