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The 50th edition of the West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort has attracted 54 nominations including several from trainers with a history of success in the Grade III event for 3-year-olds.
The $500,000, Grade III West Virginia Derby at 1 1/8 miles is one of seven stakes planned for the Saturday, Aug. 3, program that will begin at the special post time of 2 p.m. EDT. The Derby traditionally goes off at about 5:30 p.m. as the eighth race on a nine-race card.
Race 8 at Mountaineer Park on Saturday, August 03 - Post 5:35 PM
|1||Chess Chief||20-1||Miguel Mena
|2||Grumps Little Tots||10-1||Reylu Gutierrez
|4||Plus Que Parfait||7-2||Corey Lanerie
|7||Top Line Growth||8-1||Julian Pimentel
|8||Math Wizard||5-1||Florent Geroux
|Saffie Joseph, Jr.|
|9||Mr. Money||6-5||Gabriel Saez
|10||Chilly in Charge||15-1||Horacio Karamanos
In all, there were 348 nominations-several horses were cross-nominated-for the seven stakes at the July 22 deadline. The program includes the $200,000 West Virginia Governor's Stakes, a Grade III event for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/16 miles.
Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, who has won the West Virginia Derby a record five times since 2005, has nominated two colts this year. Stud TNT's Fluminense finished a closing fourth after a poor start in the Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows Racetrack & Casino in his most recent outing July 5, while Alex and JoAnn Lieblong's Laughing Fox finished fifth, beaten less than four lengths, in the Grade I Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course May 18 and has been training steadily at Saratoga Race Course in New York.
Dale Romans, who bagged his second West Virginia Derby last year with eight-length winner Mr Freeze, also nominated two colts. West Point Thoroughbreds' And Seek finished fifth in the Iowa Derby in his last start, while Calumet Farm's Everfast finished fourth in the Grade I Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park July 20 and earlier was second in the Preakness Stakes.
As has been the case for years, multiple horses nominated for the West Virginia Derby are entered or nominated for a pair of 3-year-old stakes at Saratoga July 26-27. The Mountaineer racing office will have a clearer picture of the Derby after it sees which horses actually run in New York.
A couple of colts leaning toward "probable" for the Derby are Newtown Anner Stud's Chilly In Charge, trained by Miguel Vera, and the Saffie Joseph Jr.-trained Math Wizard, who has a lengthy list of owners: Saffie, John Fanelli, Collarmele Vitelli Stables, Bassett Stables, Ioannis Zoumas and Wynwood Thoroughbreds.
Chilly In Charge, based at Monmouth, was a 12-length winner of the 1 1/16-mile Crowd Pleaser Stakes for Pennsylvania-breds at Parx Racing June 22. Math Wizard, claimed for $25,000 this past winter in Florida, has proved a shrewd purchase; the colt finished third in the Grade III Indiana Derby July 13 and just missed winning the Grade III Ohio Derby June 22.
The Elkstone Group's Top Line Growth, who finished second but was placed first in the Iowa Derby after Winning Number was disqualified for interference in the stretch, also is nominated to the West Virginia Derby. Based in Maryland with trainer Kelly Rubley-she also nominated Runnymede Racing's multiple stakes winner Alwaysmining-Top Line Growth has three wins in his four starts.
Among the nominees to the West Virginia Governor's Stakes are Colonelsdarktemper, who won the West Virginia Derby in 2017 for owner A.J. Foyt Jr., and St. George Stable's Kukulkan, a Mexico-bred who finished third in the Michael G. Schaefer Memorial Stakes at Indiana Grand July 13 and previously was the upset winner of a strong Churchill Downs allowance race. The Governor's Cup achieved Grade III status for the 2018 edition, which was won by Leofric.
Entries for the Derby program at Mountaineer close Monday, July 29.
The West Virginia Derby was first run in 1923 at Tri-State Park near Huntington, just east of the capital of Charleston. The race was held there in 1924 and 1926. It returned to the calendar decades later at Wheeling Downs in 1958, and was run there in 1959 and 1961.
The race moved to Waterford Park (now Mountaineer) in 1963 and was held every year through 1981. After another gap, the race returned in 1988 for three years through 1990.
After the introduction of video lottery terminal gaming in the state in the early 1990s, the Derby was brought back in 1998 and has been run each year since that time. This year's edition marks the 50th anniversary of the West Virginia Derby.
The West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Park, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, has had its share of stops and starts, as well as venue changes, over the course of a history that spans 1923 to 2018.
The fixture for 3-year-olds was first run in 1923 at Tri-State Park near Huntington, just east of the capital of Charleston. The race was held there again in 1924 and 1926. It returned to the calendar decades later at Wheeling Downs in 1958, and was run there in 1959 and 1961.
The race moved to Waterford Park (now Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort) in 1963 and was held every year through 1981. After another gap, the race returned in 1988 for three years through 1990.
The advent of casino-style gambling at Mountaineer in the early 1990s eventually led management to bring the Derby back to calendar in 1998, and it has been run each year since that time for a total of 21 years.
When the Derby reappeared in 1998, the purse was a then-record $200,000 and it attracted a full field of 12. The winner was Da Devil, a 13-1 Kentucky shipper who paid $28.20 to win in defeating heavily favored Ohio-bred One Bold Stroke by a neck.
Since that time only two other horses have paid more to win in the Derby: Western Pride, who went off at 21-1 and returned $45.60 win in 2001, and Soul Warrior, who paid $48 to win as a 23-1 shot in 2009. Over the past 21 editions of the race, the favorite has won nine times, which is good for a 42.8% strike rate.
The average win price since 1998 is just shy of $12, or 5-1.
The top three horses by margin of victory since 1998 were Stellar Brush (9 lengths in 1999), Departing (8 ¾ lengths in 2013) and Mr Freeze (8 lengths in 2018). The narrowest margin of victory during the period was a nose-when Tapiture defeated Candy Boy in 2014 and when Zanjero fought off Bwana Bull in 2007.
The record Derby win-place-show pool of $694,180-despite a field of only six, the smallest field over the 21-year period-came in 2009. Much of the pari-mutuel handle came through show bets on pair of 4-5 shots, favorite Big Drama and Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, who finished second and third, respectively, behind Soul Warrior.
The Derby was run under the lights from 1998 to 2002, and in 2001 it produced a then-track record of 1:47.20 for 1 1/8 miles by Western Pride. The year it switched to daytime, at least in the modern era, Soto won in a sizzling 1:46.29, a record that still stands at Mountaineer.
The record for West Virginia Derby wins by a trainer is held by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, who won with Real Dandy in 2005, Zanjero in 2007, Soul Warrior in 2009, Macho Macho in 2012 and Tapiture in 2014. In recent years, Asmussen finished fourth last year with Lionite and third with Lookin At Lee in 2017.
The holder of the record for most wins by a jockey won all of them in the 1960s. Floyd Francis Green won the Derby in consecutive years: Etimota (1963), Peter Le Grand (1964), Pantuity (1965) and Kerensa (1966). Etimota, a filly, recorded the largest margin of victory in Derby history at 12 lengths. Since 1998, the leading jockey is Rafael Bejarano with three wins (Sir Shackleton in 2004, Prayer for Relief in 2011 and Cupid in 2016).
The Derby was run on the second Saturday in August from 1998 to 2005, and has been held the first Saturday of August since 2006. The purse increased quickly from 1998: $250,000 in 1999, $300,000 in 2000, $500,000 in 2001, $600,000 in 2002, and in 2005 it jumped to $750,000, where it remained until 2017. Last year, it dropped to $500,000, which is the purse this year.
The race earned Grade III status in 2002, was raised to Grade II in 2009, and reverted to Grade III in 2017. Despite intense competition from multiple lucrative 3-year-old stakes on the East Coast within a two-week period, participation in the West Virginia has held up surprisingly well; average field size from 1998-2018 was 9.33, and on eight occasions 10-12 horses competed.
This year's Derby will be held Saturday, Aug. 3, with a special first post time of 2 p.m. Entries for the Derby and six other stakes that will head an expected nine-race program will close Monday, July 29.
As a Kentucky native, Chester Thomas said having a starter in the biggest horse race in the state-and nation for that matter-was something he won't soon forget. But having the expected favorite compete in the $500,000 West Virginia Derby is special as well, and not just because of the horse.
Thomas, who built a profitable business in the coal industry in western Kentucky, said he was good friends with West Virginia coal executive Chris Cline, who died in a helicopter crash near the Bahamas July 4. Cline began working in the coal mines and eventually became a billionaire and philanthropist through his energy-development business.
"He was in the coal business with me and was an incredible guy," Thomas said. "It was a big loss for all of us. West Virginia is a great state, and this is the West Virginia Derby. I'd be glad to have a horse win (the Derby)."
By My Standards, owned by Thomas' Allied Racing Stable, won the Grade II Louisiana Derby but finished 11th in the Grade I Kentucky Derby after an eventful trip at 18-1. But Mr. Money, his West Virginia Derby hopeful, is the 6-5 favorite on the morning line in a 10-horse field.
Mr. Money, by Goldencents out of the Tiznow mare Plenty O'Toole, was purchased by J. Stevens Bloodstock on behalf of Allied Racing for $130,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale in 2017. The colt, trained by Bret Calhoun, has earned $773,220 with four wins-including three Grade III stakes in his last three outings-and two seconds in nine starts.
Mr. Money's victory in the $500,000, Grade III Indiana Derby July 13 wasn't without anxious moments. In the stretch, he ended up having to dodge Eskenforit, who had lost his rider at the start but kept on running with the rest of the field.
"I didn't know what the heck to think when it happened," said Thomas, who was on hand for the Indiana Derby. "I saw the photo of (the start) the next day. That was unfortunate, because that (loose) horse had it figured out and tried to win. But Mr. Money shook clear. You know, it takes a lot of luck to win these races."
Since 2012 Allied Racing has won 113 races, with 107 seconds and 95 thirds, for earnings of $3.84 million, according to Equibase. Thomas, who has about 75 Thoroughbreds including foals, yearlings, 2-year-olds and broodmares, has owned stakes winners and graded stakes-placed runners, but By My Standard was his first graded-stakes winner and Mr. Money his second.
"It has been an extremely good year," Thomas said. "We've been very blessed. We keep kicking ourselves every other day to see if it's true. We're just excited we've got a good horse that can run."
Thomas regularly studies Ragozin Sheets and Thoro-Graph, which are performance and speed figures, and they indicate Mr. Money measures up well against the competition in the 1 1 1/8-mile West Virginia Derby, which will be run Aug. 3 at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort.
"Our numbers stack up with the others' numbers as we see it," Thomas said. "But it's a $500,000 race-everybody shows up to get money and wants to bring their A game. Our horse's energy level is good, and we're pretty pumped about the race. I'm hopeful we'll be the best, and let the best one win."
The West Virginia Derby is set as the eighth race on a nine-race Saturday program that begins at 2 p.m. Probable post time for the Derby is 5:35 p.m.
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