Charles Town, W.V. -- The West Virginia Breeders' Classics is the Mountaineer State's Breeders' Cup-like day and it begins its third decade when the 21st Classics program is presented Saturday at the Charles Town Races & Slots. The first race is set for 7:15 p.m. ET.
The Classics program was the dream of its co-founder and CEO, Sam Huff - one of West Virginia's favorite, and most famous sons. Huff, the former West Virginia All-American linebacker who went on to an NFL Hall of Fame career with the New York Giants and Washington Redskins, started the Classics in 1987.
"So many people told me it wasn't possible in a small state like West Virginia," Sam remembered. "But I've never been one to take no for an answer. I had just been to the first Maryland Million in 1986 and said, 'If they can do it, why can't we?'"
One year after its first running, Huff had live national television coverage on ESPN for his event in 1988. That long relationship continues with live coverage of the feature event, the $500,000 West Virginia Breeders' Classic for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles, at 10:15 p.m. ET on ESPNEWS.
The night will feature eight stakes races with total purses of $1.45 million for West Virginia-bred or -sired thoroughbreds who have been nominated to the West Virginia Breeders' Classics program. In addition, this year's six prep races leading up to the Classics night all had all their purses increased by $50,000.
In addition to the Classic, the Breeders' card includes six $100,000 races for 2-year-old fillies; 2-year-old colts; 3-year-old fillies; 3-year-old colts; and 3-years-old and up colts and geldings. The highlight of the undercard is a 3-year-old fillies and mares race at 7 furlongs that has a $350,000 purse.
Besides a night of hefty purses, the Breeders' Classics includes a number of special events like the gala dinner on Thursday; a celebrity golf tournament Friday at Locust Hill Golf Course and the popular Breakfast of Champions the morning of the races. At this event Huff brings in a number of his fellow Hall of Fame football legends and other stars for a fun morning with the fans that also raises money for the Racetrack Chaplaincy and the Eastern Panhandle Free Clinic.
"Twenty-one years and we're going strong and getting better and better," Sam reflected. "I'm proud of the impact this event has had on the West Virginia breeding and racing industry and I feel really good about its future."