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With his length and a half victory on Saturday in the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic, Imperative went to the head of the list for the racehorse with the highest purse earnings in 2014.

If that surprises the gentle reader, it was also a surprise to most every handicapper and reader of form who was familiar with Imperative even three or four months ago.

The Charles Town Classic was not only the richest race that the gelded son of Bernardini has won, it was also his first stakes victory and only his third success in 15 starts.

Imperative made his first 10 starts in the colors of co-breeder Darley, which bred him in a foal-share partnership with the Greathouse family’s Glencrest Farm. Darley then bought out their partner at the 2011 Keeneland September yearling sales, with John Ferguson signing the ticket for $325,000.

After breaking, Darley sent Imperative, who started life as a ridgling, to trainer Eoin Harty, and in his second start, Imperative won a maiden special at Golden Gate Fields in San Francisco.

Harty recalled that Imperative was an “attractive, good-sized horse with a good pedigree. He was a really solid prospect that anybody would have been happy to work with. In the mornings, he always worked like a good horse.”

But when Harty stepped Imperative up in class for his next start, the G1 Frontrunner Stakes at Santa Anita, an answer in the affirmative was not forthcoming. Imperative finished unplaced but did win again the following year at three.

The trainer said there always seemed to be talent in Imperative but nothing he tried brought it out fully. He said, “We tried blinkers on, blinkers off, working fast before a start, working slow before a start, on Bute or on Lasix, off Bute or Lasix. And nothing really worked.”

The owner even tried gelding the animal, and that didn’t make a notable change in his success.

So, toward the end of Imperative’s 3-year-old season, Darley wanted the gelding placed where he could win, and Harty said, “I ran him for a tag three times before [trainer] George [Papaprodromou] stepped up and claimed him for $50,000. He paid top dollar for a 3-year-old at the end of his season, when he was now going to have to run against open company, and my hat is off to George for figuring out Imperative because he seems to be doing really well.”

In the gelding’s first two starts for new owner Kenji Morinaga, Imperative ran just like he had been running for Harty, finishing second and third in a pair of optional claimers at Santa Anita. Then on Feb. 8, Imperative ran a lights out second in G2 San Antonio behind Blingo (Artie Schiller), with the unwearied warrior Game On Dude unplaced.

In his next start, Game On Dude won the Santa Anita Handicap from last season’s champion 3-year-old colt Will Take Charge, with Imperative far back. When the dust settled this weekend, however, Imperative had turned the tables on one of the best horses in the world and defeated Game On Dude by a length and a half in the Charles Town Classic.

Even if an interpretation of the form of the San Antonio suggested that Game On Dude had shown less than his best on that day, the game old son of Awesome Again was on the right track again in West Virginia, and the only fair conclusion is that Imperative is a markedly better horse now than he was just a few months ago.

In addition to the glimmerings of promise that Imperative had shown in his morning work, he had a couple of things working in his favor. The gelding’s former trainer, Harty, said that “Imperative was extremely sound, and a willing worker, and when that’s the case, a horse should improve as he gets older.”

That by itself may be the key to the new prosperity found by the son of Bernardini and the Caller I.D. mare Call Her. In addition, Imperative is the fourth stakes winner out of his dam, following G2 winner Battle Won (Honour and Glory) and the non-graded stakes winners Matched (Smart Strike) and Nadeshiko (Honour and Glory).

Imperative was foaled when his stakes-winning dam was 16. Then she had no produce for two years. Currently, the mare has a yearling filly by Colonel John and a suckling of 2014 by Shackleford.

*The preceding post was first published earlier this week at Paulick Report.

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