CHESTER - Hansen, last year's North American juvenile champion, drew the No. 9 post and is the 3-5 morning line favorite for Saturday's 43rd edition of the Grade 2, $750,000 West Virginia Derby. A field of 10 has been entered in the premier event at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort.
The 1 1/8-mile race, the most historic and prominent in West Virginia, will be shown live nationally in high definition via a 5 p.m. telecast on Fox Sports. The West Virginia Derby will be the eighth race on a nine-race card, comprised entirely of open stakes. Purses will exceed $1.65 million for the card, which has a first post of 2 p.m.
Mike Smith, a hall of fame inductee in 2003 and the winner of over 5,000 career races, will be riding Hansen for the first time. Smith has replaced (temporarily, at least) the colt's regular rider, Ramon Dominguez, who has opted to ride the Saturday card at Saratoga.
"Hansen's at the top of his game - he's ready to give it his best," said Michael J. Maker, the colt's 43-year-old trainer. Maker plans to ship Hansen from the Trackside Training Center in Louisville to Mountaineer "either late Thursday or early Friday."
Maker has also entered Hansen's stablemate, Morgan's Guerrilla, in the West Virginia Derby. Morgan's Guerilla has drawn the five post, and Leandro R. Goncalves has been named to ride him.
Morgan's Guerrilla finished a close second in this year's Grade 2 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne and third in the Grade 2 Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park.
"The (West Virginia Derby) distance fits him and there's that huge purse," Maker said, "although I didn't expect the field to be as large as it is."
Trainer Gennadi Dorochenko has also entered two runners in the West Virginia Derby. The more prominent is Hero of Order, who at odds of 109-1, took the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds on April Fools Day. The other Dorochenko runner is Macho Bull, who is placed in Grade 3 company.
Hero of Order has been unsuccessful when twice trying to chase down Hansen, most recently in the Grade 3 Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows on June 30. Dorochenko's colt finished a game second in the 1 1/16-mile race, which Hansen won by ten lengths.
On the other hand, Hero of Order's Louisiana Derby win was achieved at nine furlongs, a distance at which Hansen has yet to be victorious. Jockey Eddie Martin Jr. has been named aboard both runners.
Dorochenko is very familiar with Mountaineer - he has made 115 career starts at the Hancock County track, and has registered 32 wins, for an excellent strike rate of 27.8 percent. He knows the local jockeys, and it's possible that one of them will ride either Hero of Order or Macho Bull, if both horses remain in the race.
Le Bernardin, from the internationally powerful Darley Stable, has drawn the West Virginia Derby seven post, and will exit the starting gate under Mike Luzzi. On June 17, Le Bernardin won the Grade 3 Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth in a photo. He tends to run on or close to the lead throughout his races, and could potentially hook up with Hansen and Hero of Order in an early speed duel.
Macho Macho is a developing come-from-behind runner. He will exit the four post under Corey Nakatani, a 41-year-old journeyman rider, who has achieved 3,576 career wins (including 309 in graded stakes) and nearly $208.4 million in purse earnings. Macho Macho is trained by Steve Asmussen, who is a three-time West Virginia Derby winner, with Real Dandy, Zanjero and Soul Warrior, all of whom also had strong closing kicks.
Called to Serve shipped from his Southern California base to Mountaineer on Tuesday, and was the first of this year's West Virginia Derby contenders to arrive on the grounds. Trained by Peter Eurton, Call to Serve has a 1 1/8-mile win on his resume, achieved in allowance company on the synthetic surface at Hollywood Park on May 28.
The West Virginia Derby field is completed by Bourbon Courage, winner of an allowance/optional claiming sprint at Fair Grounds in March, and fourth in the Grade 3 Derby Trial Stakes at Churchill Downs in April; Penn's Grant, an allowance winner at Belmont in June; and Z Camelot, who remains a maiden after eight career tries.
There will be no coupled betting entries in race.