CHESTER - It is never wise to dismiss any horse that trainer Steve Asmussen ships in for the Grade 2 West Virginia Derby. Macho Macho accentuated this in Saturday's 43rd edition of the race.
Despite the presence of prohibitive favorite Hansen, the post-time odds on Macho Macho were 9-2. He was a medium-priced horse, but far from a longshot. And he won it completely on the square.
Asmussen has sent nine starters to the West Virginia Derby. He has won with a record four of them - Real Dandy, Zanjero, Soul Warrior and Macho Macho. None of them were the betting choices either in the morning line or at the post.
In the West Virginia Derby, Asmussen's horses have now garnered purse earnings totaling $1,861,500. That works out to an average of $206,833.33 per try. And as of Sunday morning, Asmussen's overall career victory total was 6,221, and his career purse earnings exceeded $197.4 million. He has an overall career strike rate of 21.2 percent.
The late Mountaineer icon Dale Baird continues to hold the world record for career training victories, with 9,445. The 46-year-old Asmussen will eventually surpass Baird's total - likely within seven or eight years, perhaps sooner.
In retrospect, Macho Macho's victory on Saturday was an upset that figured. His sire, Macho Uno, matured into a pretty good route runner during his own racing days, winning the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile, which capped his divisional championship season in 2000.
He then stretched out to win the Grade 3 Pennsylvania Derby at age 3 and the Grade 2 Massachusetts Handicap at age 4. Both were 1 1/8-mile events. And Macho Uno, in turn, is a son of the 1994 Horse of the Year, Holy Bull. There's stamina aplenty there.
Macho Macho's dam, Dazzling Contrast, raced only five times. Interestingly, four of those starts came at Mountaineer, which is where she gained her only win, in a maiden allowance on Sept. 4, 2004. Take a look at Dazzling Contrast's pedigree, however, and one finds Seattle Slew, Alydar, Riva Ridge, Tom Fool and Nijinsky II cross. There's a load of stamina and accomplishment there, too.
It took two tries for Macho Macho to ascend from the maiden ranks. He graduated on Feb. 25 at Fair Grounds in New Orleans, and he is the first West Virginia Derby winner who didn't race at age 2 since Bright One in 2006.
Twice earlier this season, Macho Macho took on Bourbon Courage in sprints, and twice the latter prevailed. Macho Macho reversed the order on Saturday, but Bourbon Courage needed no excuses. He finished a strong second for trainer Kellyn Gorder.
And if you look at Bourbon Courage's parentage, there's the multiple Grade 1 winner Lion Heart on top; and generations of champion route distance ability via Bourbon Courage's dam, Shine Forth, on the bottom. Good things loom ahead for this colt.
Hansen? His fourth-place finish was the worst for a West Virginia Derby betting choice with odds of 3-5 or lower. Smith also lost aboard Mine That Bird in 2009. It was suggested by more than a few bettors Saturday evening that his hall of fame stature notwithstanding, "Smith just doesn't know how to ride Mountaineer."
But in the first race of the day, the $100,000 Mountaineer Juvenile, Smith booted Maybe So to a photo-finish victory, clocking a stakes-record 1:10.09 for six furlongs. Smith also won Saturday's $100,000 West Virginia House of Delegates Speaker's Cup aboard Major Marvel, clocking a course record 1:37.21 for one mile and 70 yards on grass.
Smith won a trio of stakes on the 2009 West Virginia Derby undercard. His career record at Mountaineer includes 18 mounts, all in stakes, from which he's gained five wins and four placings. There's nothing wrong with that.
What seems more likely is that Hansen, who was a splendid middle distance runner at age 2, has not been able to successfully stretch out to longer distances as he's gotten older. And he may not ever be able to do that.