One night each fall, horses dress up at Charles Town Race Course. The crowd is larger, the lights brighter and a well-appointed thoroughbred can make more in two minutes than he has in a lifetime.
The West Virginia Breeders Classics will be run tonight at Charles Town for the fourth time, as much in consideration of the state's thoroughbred designers as their models.
The main event, the $125,000 Classic, can make a star out of any horse -- at least for one night. However, West Virginia residency does not gain a horse admittance to the track's richest race. Only those bred, raised or sired in the state can attend.
The nine-race program, which will get under way at 7:15 p.m., will match last year's record $305,000 in purse offerings, with six of the races restricted to West Virginia blood.
The Classic, eighth on the card, will bring together a familiar cast of weathered veterans, including defending champ Taylor Mountain and 1988 winner Kiss My Tan. Both appear to have lost a step since their heydays, however, and program favorite Woodburn Hall is winless in five Charles Town allowance races this year.
All that would seem to bolster the prospects of Gentle Is The Nite, a 3-year-old whom trainer Dale Capuano will dispatch from Bowie Race Course.
The West Virginia Classics have at most improved the state's breeding and racing industry and at least managed to draw the attention of out-of-state horsemen such as Capuano and Luigi Gino, both well-known Maryland trainers.
Gino claimed I'llbealongintime for $12,000 earlier this year at Laurel, and after winning more than $30,000, the filly is in a $25,000 stakes race tonight. Capuano knew Gentle Is The Nite was eligible for the Classic and structured the colt's 1990 program to that end.
"I'm taking a horse that's probably, tops, a $25,000 claimer and running him for a $125,000 purse," he said. "It's a good opportunity for the people of West Virginia who breed horses to make some money."
The winner of the 1 1/8-mile Classic will earn $56,250. Seven of the 10 probables haven't earned that much in their careers.
The strongest favorite of the night could be Ara Russell. Trainer Janene Watson considered trying him in the Classic, but opted instead for a $25,000, seven-furlong race against other 3-year-olds. Ara Russell beat five of the Classic entrants in winning the Frank Gall Handicap, but Watson wasn't sure he could last the nine furlongs.
The Classics help illuminate the little mountain track that, for the rest of the year, leans toward obscurity. ESPN will televise the races Sunday morning and Monday afternoon as part of "Racing Across America."
Desormeaux Returns to Laurel Today
Kent Desormeaux, who finished second in wins to Pat Valenzuela among Del Mar jockeys, will return to Laurel today, where he's named on seven mounts. He will ride Voodoo Lily for trainer Wayne Lukas in the $100,000 Columbia Stakes. . . .
Jockey Marco Castaneda won his first Maryland race in three months, finishing a $193.20 daily double at Laurel astride Skipper Upper. Castaneda had been out with a broken right wrist.