The top three finishers in the Iowa Derby and the top two from the Los Alamitos Derby are among a field of nine entered for the $500,000 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort Aug. 4.
The grade III fixture for 3-year-olds is the centerpiece of a nine-race Saturday program that will begin at 2 p.m. EDT. The Derby is carded as the eighth race with a post time of 5:35 p.m.
Shortleaf Stable's High North, Jim Bakke and Gerald Isbister's Mr Freeze, and Winchell Thoroughbreds and Willis Horton Racing's Lionite finished a tight one-two-three, respectively, in the $250,000 Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows Racetrack & Casino July 6. The Iowa Derby was run at 1 1/16 miles, while the West Virginia Derby is at 1 1/8 miles.
Trained by Brad Cox, High North, a colt by Midnight Lute, won the Iowa Derby from just off the pace in a frantic finish. In his previous start he finished a respectable fourth in the grade III Peter Pan Stakes—at 1 1/8 miles but around one turn—at Belmont Park in New York, and earlier this year was on the Triple Crown trail in graded stakes in Louisiana and Arkansas.
Mr Freeze, a lightly raced colt by To Honor and Serve, was two-for-two heading into the Iowa Derby and just missed by a half-length. He has shown the ability to race close to the pace or come from behind with success for trainer Dale Romans, who won the 2006 West Virginia Derby with Bright One.
Lionite, who made up the most ground late in the Iowa Derby and previously won the Prairie Meadows Mile, is trained by Steve Asmussen, who has collected five West Virginia Derby victories since 2005. The Quality Road colt has been training at Saratoga Race Course in New York for the summer and may appreciate the added distance at Mountaineer.
Asmussen and Winchell Thoroughbreds teamed to win the West Virginia Derby twice, in 2014 with Tapiture and in 2007 with Zanjero.
Trainer Bob Baffert, who has won three editions of the West Virginia Derby with Cupid (2016), Prayer for Relief (2011) and Concord Point (2010), conditions the Bodemeister colt Once On Whiskey, who won the grade III, $150,000 Los Alamitos Derby by a head over Draft Pick July 14 at Los Alamitos Race Course in California. Owned by Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman, Once On Whiskey overcame a slow start to win the 1 1/8-mile race in his first start around two turns and never has finished worse than third in four starts.
C R K Stable's Draft Pick, trained by Peter Eurton, won the grade III Affirmed Stakes at Santa Anita Park in California before his near miss at Los Alamitos. The Candy Ride colt is yet another consistent two-turn runner entered in the West Virginia Derby.
Another California-based entrant is Kramer Racing, Nice Guys Stables and Steven Keh's King Cause, who finished evenly in the Los Alamitos Derby and Affirmed Stakes for trainer Doug O'Neill.
The Graham Motion-trained Rugbyman figures to attract plenty of attention given his efforts at Belmont Park in the spring. The Tapit colt would make his two-turn debut at Mountaineer after racing one mile and 1 1/16 miles around one turn in New York.
Rugbyman, owned by Wertheimer and Frere, caused a stir when he broke his maiden at Belmont by 14 lengths in mid-May, and he followed up with a near-miss in the Easy Goer Stakes, also at Belmont. He then added blinkers for the July 7 Dwyer Stakes, a grade III event at Belmont, and flattened out a bit after a poor start in a race Firenze Fire won by nine lengths in fast time for one mile.
Two local horses, Glockenberg LLC's Pamir and Michelle Winters' Caloric, round out the field.
Pamir, based at Mountaineer, broke his maiden locally by 12 lengths for trainer Pavel Vashchenko and then was placed first on a disqualification in a one-mile turf allowance race at Mountaineer. Caloric, based at ThistleDown Racino in neighboring Ohio for trainer Odin Londono Jr., finished seventh in both the grade II Tampa Bay Derby and grade III Ohio Derby after a claim for $16,000 in Florida in February.
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