CHESTER - A record-equaling 71 horses have been nominated to this year's Grade 2, $750,000 West Virginia Derby. The 44th running of the state's most historic race will occur Aug. 3, at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort.
The number of nominees matches that of the 2007 renewal, when Zanjero defeated Bwana Bull by a nose. The 1 1/8-mile West Virginia Derby will again anchor a nine-race card comprised entirely of non-restricted stakes, with purses totaling $1.65 million. Post time for the first race will be 2 p.m.
"There's a lot of competition among racetracks to bring in the best 3-year-olds," said Joe Narcavish, Mountaineer's racing secretary. "The purse is always a large factor, as is the graded status. The West Virginia Derby is high on the scale in both categories, which allows for a competitive, well-matched event."
Horses expected to compete in this year's West Virginia Derby include Overanalyze, who was a 4-length winner of the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park in April. The colt is owned by Mike Repole, and is trained by Todd Pletcher, a five-time recipient of the Eclipse Award as North America's outstanding Thoroughbred conditioner.
Departing, who won the Grade 3 Illinois Derby by 3 lengths at Hawthorne in April, is a definite West Virginia Derby starter. The gelding is co-owned by Claiborne Farm and Adele B. Dilschneider and is trained by Al Stall Jr., the same crew that sent out Blame to hand Zenyatta her only career defeat in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic.
"We've been pointing to the West Virginia Derby since (mid-May)," said Stall. "We plan to bring Departing to Mountaineer the day before the race. Robbie Albarado will be our jockey."
Efforts by Departing this year also include a third-place finish in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby in March. He is a proven competitor at the nine-furlong West Virginia Derby distance.
Trainer Steve Asmussen, who includes a record four West Virginia Derby wins on his resume, has nominated three horses to this year's event. Betweenhereandcool leads the group - the colt was an allowance race winner at Churchill Downs this spring, and was a fast-closing second in the Grade 3 Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows on June 29.
Uncaptured, who was a multiple graded stakes winner at Churchill last fall and has twice placed in graded company this year, is a potential West Virginia Derby starter. The colt is owned by John Oxley and trained by Mark Casse, and has accumulated $660,106 in career purse earnings.
One West Virginia Derby starter is already on the Mountaineer grounds. The gelding's name is Say Ow, and while he has no prior experience in stakes, he has twice won at the 8-furlong distance on the synthetic surface at Hollywood Park.
Say Ow will be a West Virginia Derby long shot. But it's interesting to note that his sire, Langfuhr, was the longest shot on the board when he won the 1996 Forego Handicap at Saratoga. Say Ow is trained by Charles Kieser.
The West Virginia Derby dates back to 1923, when it was initially run at the Tri-State Fairgrounds near Huntington. The race also had a brief tenure at Wheeling Downs, and was first run at Mountaineer (which was then Waterford Park) in 1963.
Last year's West Virginia Derby was won by Macho Macho, who stalked the pace and made a late run to prevail by a half-length under jockey Corey Nakatani. An Asmussen trainee, Macho Macho came to Mountaineer following a second-place finish in the Long Branch Stakes at Monmouth Park.
Admission and general parking will, as always, be free on West Virginia Derby day.
MOUNTAINEER NOTES: Bourbon Courage, who finished second in last year's West Virginia Derby, has been nominated to this year's $200,000 West Virginia Governor's Stakes, to be run at 1 1/16 miles on the Derby card. Also among the nominees is Russell Road, who won this year's Independence Day Stakes at Mountaineer on July 2.