W. Va. Derby Runs Today at Mountaineer in Chester

‘Sneaky-deep field’ awaits at Mountaineer

The 3-year-olds who have competed in Triple Crown races traditionally have drawn the most attention in the Grade III West Virginia Derby, but this year’s $750,000 race has attracted a field with many possibilities.

Three colts come to Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort on Aug. 5 after quality efforts in the Grade III Iowa Derby July 7. As a reference point, Concord Point and Prayer for Relief won the Iowa Derby in 2010 and 2011, respectively, before winning the West Virginia Derby.

Whitham Thoroughbreds’ McCormick and NK Racing’s Impressive Edge dueled for the lead in the 1 1/16-mile race until the final yards, but held very well for second and third, respectively, behind Hence. Tom Durant’s Silver Dust made a bold bid to get within a neck of the lead on the far turn in the Iowa Derby and kept on to finish a close fourth.

Cupid, winner of last year’s 1 1/8-mile West Virginia Derby, used a victory in the Grade II Indiana Derby three weeks prior as his springboard. Multiple graded stakes winner Irap, who captured this year’s Indiana Derby July 15, is awaiting a stakes at Saratoga Race Course, but the second- and fourth-place finishers, A.J. Foyt’s Colonelsdarktemper and Albaugh Family Stable’s Watch Me Whip, are entered at Mountaineer.

Add in Reddam Racing’s B Squared, who finished second and third in two Grade III stakes in California against some of the top West Coast 3-year-olds, and the West Virginia Derby becomes quite the handicapping puzzle.

“It’s a sneaky-deep field,” said Mark Patterson, the assistant racing secretary at Mountaineer who is involved in recruiting horses for the race. “(The favorites) from the Triple Crown races are far from invincible.

“The Belmont Stakes was June 10, and that was a long time ago. The winner usually has raced much closer to the West Virginia Derby.”

Patterson, who also handicaps races at Mountaineer, said the field is short on two things: true speed and true stamina. Patch and Lookin At Lee, who last ran in the Belmont Stakes, prefer to come from off the early pace. They have proven stamina but it’s far from certain they’ll get a legitimate pace, he said.

“It looks like a race in which nobody wants to go out there too fast early,” Patterson said.

The West Virginia Derby usually attracts a good-sized field, and this year is no exception as 11 were entered. Patterson said he and racing secretary Joe Narcavish begin canvasing emerging and top 3-year-olds several months before the race and track those that fall by the wayside for a period of time. It’s also a matter of educating trainers about the value of the race.

“A lot of guys know we’re here, and they come about every year,” Patterson said. “We try to recruit from far-away territories and talk with trainers who may not know what we’re about and how prominent the race is. It’s an evolving process to make sure everybody knows how big the race is. We always get a big field, but I’m surprised at the depth this year. Who else does that with all the other major 3-year-old races out there?”

First post for today’s program is 2 p.m. The Derby is the eighth race with a planned post time of 5:21 p.m.

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If you plan to visit Mountaineer for the West Virginia Derby program and want to get some information on how to handicap races and wager on them, HorsePlayerNOW representatives will be on hand on the deck on the track apron with plenty of information and–yes–eyepatches.

Why the eyepatches? One of the Derby favorites, Patch, had his left eye removed during his 2-year-old year and has generated a great deal of interest among racing fans. He has performed well on the racetrack; his only off-the-board finish in five starts came in the Grade I Kentucky Derby.

“We will be doing all-day seminars on how to handicap, read past performances, read the tote board, and understand money management and wager types,” said Jeremy Plonk of HorsePlayerNOW, which is in its seventh year of the “Night School” online fan education program.

It will mark the third time the West Virginia Derby is part of the Night School Tour. Those who visit the booth also will get free tipsheets and wagering information cards.

Plonk said the eyepatches will be given away free to fans in support of Patch courtesy of HorsePlayerNOW, which will feature the promotion on Twitter. Fans will be encouraged to share their “Patch pics” as well.

As part of the promotion, Mountaineer will give HorsePlayerNOW wagering vouchers to be given away in an effort to encourage betting on the day’s program.

“The West Virginia Derby ranks as one of our favorite stops because of the closeness with the fans and the support of management for doing what’s right,” Plonk said. “Mountaineer understands the importance of its signature day and our ability to develop one-time visitors into more informed and more frequent returnees.”

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