Did Imperative run his best-ever race at Charles Town?
KM Racing Enterprises with owner Kenji Morinaga and trainer George Papaprodromou were gushing with superlatives.
Their four-year-old gelding Imperative had just circled long-time great Game On Dude through the short stretch at Charles Town to win the 2014 Charles Town Classic, a Grade II success story that earned the dark bay a hefty $1 million paycheck.
Not only had the improving gelding just stunned the racing world by overtaking and crisply passing Game On Dude (a winner of over $6 million in earnings at the time) but he did it at 26-1 odds.
KM Racing had just claimed Imperative for only $50,000 in December of 2013. Headquartered in California, KM Racing had to fly Imperative to the East Coast for the $1.5 million Charles Town Classic.
Even though it was only Imperative’s third win in 15 career starts, his backers and handlers believed he had put himself on a path to challenge some of the best handicap thoroughbreds in California.
Imperative is the son of the highly regarded Bernardini, giving KM Racing some sturdy legs to stand on when assessing their $50,000 investment in him.
At birth, Imperative was under the direction of co-owners Darley and Glencrest Farm, but eventually Darley bought full ownership with a $325,000 bid for the leggy distance runner at the 2011 Keeneland September yearling sale. In his second start for then-trainer Eoin Harty, Imperative won a maiden special weight event at Golden Gate Fields in San Francisco.
Harty called Imperative an “attractive, good-sized horse with a good pedigree. He was really a solid prospect that anybody would have been happy to work with. In the mornings, he always worked like a good horse.”
But when Harty tried him in a Grade I test, Imperative was stampeded by the classy opposition.
He didn’t win again at two, and then had only one win at age three.
Finally, after running through his trainer’s manual looking for methods that might improve his horse’s performances, Harty and his owners had Imperative gelded.
Darley tried to retrieve some of the money it had spent on him by placing Imperative in a $50,000 claiming race they believed he could win. That was when current trainer Papaprodromou claimed him.
In his first two starts for KM Racing, Imperative had a second and a third. In his next effort, he was against Grade II competition in the San Antonio Stakes in California. He ran second, beaten by only Blingo and finishing far in front of Game On Dude.
In a parting message to Imperative’s new ownership, Harty had said, “He was extremely sound, and a willing worker, and when that’s the case, a horse should improve as he gets older.”
But after leaving Charles Town and returning to California and its highly competitive meets at Santa Anita, Del Mar and Golden Gate Fields, Imperative has not flourished . . . but seems to have regressed.
He has been moved up to face Grade I fields instead of the Grade II field he defeated in the Charles Town Classic.
However, in the six races he’s had since winning in April at Charles Town, there have been four clunkers and a pair of third-place showings.
In late June, he was third in the Grade I Gold Cup at Santa Anita. In late July, he finished eighth in the Grade II San Diego Handicap.
August found him finishing third in the Grade I Pacific Classic in a race won by Shared Belief. Late September couldn’t be celebrated because he was fifth in the Grade I Awesome Again. He was entered in the 14-horse Breeders Cup Classic in November and finished ninth as a 66-1 longshot.
Earlier this month, Imperative had an unresponsive trip in the Grade I Champions Cup where he was a dismal 15th.
In following his short history since April’s tour de force finish in the Charles Town Classic, Imperative has been 0-for-6 and done very little in his last three tries.
Will he return for the 2015 running of the multi-million dollar Charles Town Classic?
If he does, the wagering public might be able to get those same 26-1 odds they had when he won the 2014 Charles Town Classic.