Paolucci Pulling Double Duty on Derby Day

Photo by Coady Photography Imperative, who won the 2017 Charles Town Classic, has his sights set on the West Virginia Governor’s Stakes.

CHESTER — Ron Paolucci is pulling double duty again in West Virginia and upstate New York on the first Saturday in August, but the West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort isn’t the focal point.

Paolucci, who operates Loooch Racing Stable, has entered the 8-year-old gelding Imperative, who he co-owns with Imaginary Stables, in the $200,000 West Virginia Governor’s Stakes on Saturday’s program. About eight hours away at Saratoga Race Course, the stable’s Dalmore is scheduled to compete in the Grade I, $1.2 million Whitney Stakes.

Last year, Loooch Racing’s Game Over finished a strong second to Colonelsdarktemper in the West Virginia Derby, and Paolucci, a native of nearby Akron, Ohio, was on hand. That same afternoon, the stable’s War Story finished fourth in the Whitney; this year Paolucci entered Dalmore, 30-1 on the morning-line, in the Saratoga race.

The Governor’s Cup this year was granted Grade III status, and Paolucci, who spent a lot of time at Mountaineer with his father when he was growing up, is expecting a good effort from $2.9 million earner Imperative, who won the Grade II, $1.2 million Charles Town Classic in April 2017 before going on the shelf for an extended period of time.

Imperative, in his first start back June 30 of this year, finished fourth in the Grade III Philip H. Iselin Stakes at Monmouth Park in New Jersey after returning from California. For the past month he has been based at ThistleDown Racino near Cleveland with Jeff Radosevich, who trains many of Loooch Racing’s runners.

“When he came back (to training) we gave him plenty of time, but after two works he had a quarter crack,” Paolucci said. “After being off that long he didn’t have a lot of punch at Monmouth, and he also stumbled at the start. We expect a lot more punch (on Saturday). I looked at the field, and if not for his last race he might be 3-5 in there.”

Imperative is 6-1 in the morning line for the Governor’s Cup, which drew a field of nine. The 5-2 favorite is Stephen Smoot and trainer Wesley Hawley’s Hawaakom, who won the Governor’s Cup in 2016 and has competed exclusively in graded stakes this year.

Paolucci said the goal for Imperative is the Grade I Woodward Stakes at Saratoga on Sept. 1.

“He’s a nice horse,” he said. “I think he’ll move forward in the Governor’s Cup but he made need the race.”

Paolucci, who was the second-leading owner by wins nationally last year with 132, caused a stir a few weeks ago when he told Daily Racing Form he planned to exit the Thoroughbred racing business because he’s frustrated with the way it operates. He is a big proponent of the Ohio racing program but also competes in major stakes around the country, and because of his outspoken and humorous nature has won over his share of racing fans.

There appeared to be a softening of his stance in comments made on Twitter, but Paolucci said he hasn’t changed his mind — not yet anyway.

“I’m basically operating my business as usual, and then we’ll see what happens after the Breeders’ Cup (this fall),” he said. “One thing that did surprise me was the outpouring of support inside and outside of the business. It’s an aggravating industry and it takes its toll on you, but then you get this huge wave of support. That makes you think maybe you made a mistake.

“But if you asked me today, I’d say it is 60-40 I quit — or at least I’ll take a break from it.”

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