CHESTER - Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort commences its 63rd season of live thoroughbred racing Friday with a nine-race card scheduled for a 7 p.m. post.
Friday's feature, a $37,100 five-furlong open allowance, has lured a full field of 10.
"Short of a stakes, that race is as good as it gets," said Mark Patterson, Mountaineer's assistant racing secretary and co-host of the track's in-house handicapping show.
"The field includes Time for a Winner, who finished third in our West Virginia Legislature Chairman's Cup last year. It includes Jasizzle, who was second in our Sophomore Spring Championship Stakes.
"It includes Grittani, who was a stakes winner at Fort Erie in 2012. And Silver Summation, Pathoki, Aly's Reward and Rummy's Command, all of whom were allowance winners at Mountaineer in 2012. It's a great bettors' race."
Overnight races (allowance, starter allowance, maiden special weight and claiming events) have received 10 percent purse increases at this year. Open claiming purses will range through seven levels, from $12,500 for horses running for $5,000 tags, to $31,100 for horses entered for tags of $50,000.
"Over the decades, going back to our opening season (as Waterford Park) in 1951, we've run nearly 127,000 races at Mountaineer for purses in excess of $605 million," said Rose Mary Williams, the track's director of racing.
"We've got a well-established niche - one that spans many decades - in a thoroughbred industry where the competition among racetracks for horses is enormous. And while the North American gaming market is ever-expanding, we do everything we reasonably can to fortify our position."
The anchoring event on the 210-day Mountaineer schedule, the 44th edition of the Grade 2, $750,000 West Virginia Derby, will highlight a special 2 p.m. program on Aug. 3. The nine-race West Virginia Derby card will be comprised of open stakes for guaranteed purses totaling $1.65 million.
Initially run during the 1920s at Tri-State Fairgrounds on the outskirts of Barboursville (near Huntington), the West Virginia Derby also had a short tenure at Wheeling Downs, and moved to what was then Waterford in 1963.
There have been some hiatuses in the derby's history, but this will be 50th year since it was first run at what is now Mountaineer. It is the oldest and most prominent stakes event in West Virginia, a state with a thoroughbred racing heritage that dates back more than two and a quarter centuries.
Black-type offerings for Mountaineer's schedule add up to a baker's dozen. They begin with the Independence Day and Firecracker Stakes, both of which will be $75,000 purses on the grass on July 2.
They will culminate with the $130,000 Mountaineer Mile and $85,000 Sophomore Sprint Championship, to be run on Nov. 2 and Nov. 12, respectively. Mountaineer's aggregate purse distribution for stakes will exceed $2 million.
Deshawn Parker, perennial leader of the jockey colony at Mountaineer, has mounts in six races on Friday.
The 42-year-old Parker has 4,023 career wins at the Hancock County track, the most by any jockey in the history of Mountaineer.
During his Mountaineer career, which now spans more that a quarter of a century, horses ridden by Parker have gained more than $44 million in purse earnings. That's an all-time Mountaineer record for a jockey as well.
Mountaineer's live racing season will extend through Dec. 20. As in years prior, race cards will be offered Fridays through Tuesdays, with Wednesdays and Thursdays being dark.
Nine races per card will occur during the opening six months of the season, and 10 races per card will be offered during October, November and December. This is a reversal from recent years - the change was made because more horses appear to be available during the latter months.