CHESTER - The first horse to ship in for Saturday's Grade 2, $750,000 West Virginia Derby is Called to Serve. He arrived at Mountaineer Casino Racetrack & Resort on Tuesday evening, following a 21-hour journey from trainer Peter Eurton's barn at the Del Mar racetrack, adjacent to Southern California's Pacific shore.
Called to Serve was accompanied by his groom, Francisco Tabuyo. Paul Toscano, a former jockey, will gallop Called to Serve over the Mountaineer surface on Thursday and Friday. "And I'll be there to saddle Called to Serve on Saturday," Eurton said. "It's a long way to go, but we're glad to be there."
Career stats for Called to Reserve include six starts, two wins, one third-place finish, and purse earnings of $79,430. He was purchased for $290,000 at Keeneland's September yearling sale in 2010. David Hofmans was Called to Serve's first trainer, and Eurton has been handling conditioning chores since the spring of this year.
The West Virginia Derby morning line odds for Called to Serve are 20-1. He'll be taking on a bona-fide heavyweight in Hansen, and other proven graded stakes competitors. But Called to Serve's past performances include something that Hansen doesn't have - a win at the 1 1/8-mile West Virginia Derby distance.
Called to Serve accomplished this in allowance company against older horses over Hollywood Park's synthetic surface on May 28. In his prior start, he had broken his maiden at 1 1/16 miles over the dirt surface at Santa Anita.
He was unplaced in his most recent effort, the Grade 2 Swaps Stakes at Hollywood, but Called to Serve is still something of a work in progress. His dam, Andover Lady, had some fair success on the grass, winning allowances at Saratoga and Keeneland, and finishing third in the Grade 3 Pebbles Handicap at Belmont Park.
"But we tried Called to Serve on the grass when he was still a maiden, and he didn't take to it at all," Eurton said. "Now, we're going to see how he likes the Mountaineer dirt. The West Virginia Derby offers a great purse, although we didn't expect the field to be as tough as it is."
Called to Serve campaigns for Mr. and Mrs. Marc C. Ferrell. Marc Ferrell is a multi-faceted entrepreneur - his ventures include the medical supply business. Jockey Leandro Goncalves was named to ride both Called to Serve and Morgan's Guerrilla in the West Virginia Derby, but appears to be opting for the latter mount. Ferrell is negotiating to have three-time Kentucky Derby winner Calvin Borel aboard.
Eurton, age 55, is a Golden State resident. In his younger days he was a jockey, competing on the west coast at tracks ranging from his home state to Stampede Park in Alberta, Canada.
"That was a long time ago, and I wasn't very good at it," said Eurton, who rode 97 winners, but never registered a stakes score. Eurton's efforts conditioning Thoroughbreds, which he has been engaged in since 1989, have been more productive.
His career training stats include 351 victories and more than $12.1 million in purse earnings. Seven stakes winners have emerged from Eurton's barn. The most prominent to date has been Weemissfrankie, who twice triumphed in Grade 1 company in 2011, taking the Del Mar Debutante in September and the Oak Leaf Stakes at Santa Anita the following month.
Weemissfrankie was a $175,000 auction purchase at age two in Ocala, Florida. She finished third in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Churchill Downs, but subsequently suffered a conjular fracture."
"One screw, right foreleg," Eurton said of the injury. Weemissfrankie has recently returned to training. "She galloped for the first time in seven months this past Tuesday," Eurton said.
Eurton also conditions the three-year-old filly My Gi Gi, who on June 9 of this year won Hollywood's Grade 2 Honeymoon Handicap. From a purse standpoint, however, a West Virginia Derby win would be Eurton's biggest score to date.
"We're going to have fun giving it a try," he said.
West Virginia Derby Notes: Hall of Famer Mike Smith, who will pilot Hansen, has six mounts on the West Virginia Derby card . . . Immortal Eyes is seeking a repeat score in Saturday's $100,000 West Virginia Legislature Chairman's Cup, and Tend will try for his second consecutive triumph in the $100,000 Robert C. Byrd Memorial Stakes.