by Dustin Fabian
August 1, 2018
Located about an hour west of Pittsburgh and an hour south of Youngstown, West Virginia’s Mountaineer Park isn’t generally regarded as a hotbed of top quality racing. Sure, they race at Mountaineer 123 days between May and November, but the biggest day – and the one I circle on my calendar – is held on the first Saturday in August each year.
West Virginia Derby Day is the one day where Mountaineer gets that national attention. Top trainers like Baffert, O’Neill and Asmussen ship in (and in past years, Pletcher and Brown), and top jocks like Talamo, Leparoux, Prat and Geroux make the trek to West Virginia to ride.
To my eye, Brad Cox appears poised to have a huge day on Saturday at Mountaineer. He’s slated to start six, including High North in the West Virginia Derby, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he visits the winner’s circle three or four times. Check out my picks below to see which ones I like.
This year’s 9-race West Virginia Derby Day card features seven stakes races, two of which are graded. The Grade 3, $500,000 West Virginia Derby has toggled between a Grade 2 and Grade 3 event since 2002, while the Grade 3, $200,000 West Virginia Governor’s Cup for older horses will be run as a graded race for the first time this year.
Xpressbet is offering a 1 Million Point Split on Mountaineer’s Late Pick 4 this Saturday. Hit the Late Pick 4 (Races 6 – 9) to win your share of the Points! And then redeem your points for wagering credits, past performances, Xpressbet gear and more.
Here are my picks for the day. One word of warning – Mountaineer draws early (Monday for Saturday) and traditionally, this card gets hit pretty hard with scratches. Keep that in mind if you’re handicapping early or reading these picks. Additionally, they’re calling for rain on Friday (not much Saturday), but a wet track would also alter some selections.
Race 1 – Allowance ($25,100) – WV-Bred 3YO+ - 6 Furlongs on the Dirt
The early part of the card appears pretty chalky to me, so my pick in the first, #6 AWSOME FAITH, isn’t exactly exciting. He loves Mountaineer (5-for-6 lifetime here) and drops in to face WV-breds after racing against tougher open fields in his last three starts here. Leading local rider Luis Quinones has the mount. Since you won’t get rich betting even-money shots, pair him in the Exacta and Double with some other logical horses.
1. Awsome Faith (1/1)
2. Help a Brother (2/1)
3. Chute Boss (20/1)
Race 2 – West Virginia House of Delegates Speakers Cup ($75,000) – 3YO+ - 1 Mile 70 Yards on the Turf
The stakes portion of the card kicks off in Race 2 and the aforementioned Brad Cox appears well poised to start his day right with #5 BIG CHANGES, who won the John Henry Stakes last out at Evangeline and is 4-of-10 in his career on the turf. Florent Geroux has the mount. The only primary danger appears to be #9 SPECIAL OPS, who won this race last year for the potent combo of Mike Maker and Julien Leparoux at odds of 2/1. His last three starts haven’t been good, however, and he’ll need to work out a trip from the far outside post, two hurdles that force me to lean to BIG CHANGES. BANDAR loves this course (4-for-9 here) but was a mediocre 6th in this race last year and doesn’t appear to be better this time around. He’s the best of the locals, though.
1. Big Changes (6/5)
2. Special Ops (4/1)
3. Runaway Posse (5/1)
Race 3 – West Virginia Secretary of State ($75,000) – F&M 3YO+ - 6 Furlongs on the Dirt
Here’s that guy again – Brad Cox sends out the white hot #5 GOLDEN MISCHIEF, who has done very little wrong in this type of race since moving to Cox’s barn. Last summer, under the tutelage of Steve Asmussen, GOLDEN MISCHIEF ran in races like the G2 Prioress (4th), G2 Eight Belles (4th) and G3 Victory Ride (4th). Since moving in with Cox, she won the Saylorville at Prairie Meadows by 5-lengths and earned a 101 Beyer Speed Figure at Oaklawn, getting 6f in 1:08 3/5 in an allowance race. Either performance would win here. #7 PUNTSVILLE has plenty of speed and is in great form, having won three of her last four dirt races, including the Hoist Her Flag Stakes last out at Canterbury. She’ll face traffic on the front end from Larry Jones’ #2 ASTROLLINTHEPARK. If the pace melts #3 NISHA would be the most likely beneficiary.
1. Golden Mischief (9/5)
2. Nisha (4/1)
3. Puntsville (7/2)
Race 4 – West Virginia Legislature Chairman Cup ($75,000) – 3YO+ - 4 1/2 Furlongs on the Dirt
Two-time defending champion, #8 ROMAN OFFICER, is back, but there are significant questions about his chances. His Beyer Speed Figures are pretty consistent and he’s still racing competitively, but why did the connections give him up for a $12,500 tag last out at Charles Town, knowing this race was less than a month away? Seems strange to me. He won that race by 3-lengths, albeit in slightly less spectacular fashion than he was racing in 2016 or 2017. Maybe he’s getting long in the tooth? His former connections are here with #9 WARLEIGH, but he’s never raced in this short of an even before. He did win his last start at Mountaineer in fine fashion, but he doesn’t have the gate speed to go with some of these early, meaning he’ll try to close. He’s also a 7YO and he’s 5-for-34 in his career. #3 CONCORD FAST has a similar come-from-behind style and, again, is up against it in such a short race.
1. Warleigh (3/1)
2. Strong Like Bull (9/2)
3. Roman Officer (7/2)
Race 5 – West Virginia President’s Cup ($75,000) – F&M 3YO+ - 1 Mile and 70 Yards on the Turf
Mike Maker seems to hold the cards in this race, at least from a morning line perspective. #1 GIANNA’S DREAM will likely start as the favorite and drew well for her frontrunning style. Expect Julien Leparoux to put her on the lead. She’s been racing in primarily G3 races for the past year, but it is worth noting that her form has soured since last summer. She can win, but this isn’t the same version of GIANNA’S DREAM that *almost* won the G3 My Charmer at Gulfstream in December against On Leave and Stormy Victoria. SUSIE BEE, Maker’s other horse, drew outside and does her best running late. She finished second in this race in 2016, but like her stablemate, her recent form doesn’t shine. Brad Cox’s (there’s that guy again) #4 HACHI was 15/1 when she just missed upsetting a race at Indiana Grand last out and is most likely to benefit from Maker’s horses being off form. She’s 4/1 on the morning line and is a must-use in your bets.
1. Hachi (CHI) (4/1)
2. Gianna’s Dream (9/5)
3. Bombshell (6/1)
Race 6 – Senator Robert C. Byrd Memorial ($75,000) – 3YO+ - 6 Furlongs on the Dirt
This is a really solid field and I think you can make a case for most of these. Brad Cox sends out #10 SEVIER, who ran his eyeballs out last time in a sloppy track race at Ellis. #6 LINE JUDGE goes out for Tom Amoss and he just won an allowance at Indiana Grand. #1 AWESOME GENT will flash speed from the rail and has won 5-of-7 races since moving to Ohio from deeper waters in New York. Bookend speed horses could set this race up for #4 HEARTWOOD, who shocked them all in the Steel Valley Sprint at Mahoning Valley last November at 68/1. He’s in much better form this year – including a Keeneland allowance win and a sharp win last out at Thistledown – and would come as no shock. #8 BALANDEEN is a stakes winner for Chris Hartman but he’s a tough horse for me to love as the favorite.
1. Heartwood (5/1)
2. Sevier (9/2)
3. Line Judge (4/1)
Race 7 – West Virginia Governor’s Cup (G3, $200,000) – 3YO+ - 1 1/16 Miles on the Dirt
Older horses take center stage in the Governor’s Cup and I’m focused on two here in - #5 HAWAAKOM and #8 TERM OF ART. TERM OF ART is another Cox horse and while I’m not blindly betting, he has a lot going for him. There’s simply no pace in this race and TERM OF ART battled for the lead in an Ellis Park allowance win last out. If he employs similar tactics, I think he’s at a huge advantage. HAWAAKOM is simply the top horse in the field and could run ‘em all down anyway, even without a pace edge. He’s won at Mountaineer and is a G3 winner and G2 placed this season. He loves the distance (8-for-20 career) and would handle this field with his A-game. The biggest concern – he hasn’t won on a fast track since this race in 2016.
1. Term of Art (10/1)
2. Hawaakom (5/2)
3. Leofric (6/1)
Race 8 – West Virginia Derby (G3, $500,000) – 3YO – 1 1/8 Miles on the Dirt
For me, this year’s West Virginia Derby is a two-horse race, between #2 DRAFT PICK and #5 ONCE ON WHISKEY. They exit a very legitimate race – the G3 Los Alamitos Derby – and, honestly, most of these others just haven’t been racing against horses that good. DRAFT PICK has already beaten Axelrod and Solomini and has raced against Core Beliefs, Instilled Regard and Ax Man. ONCE ON WHISKEY won the Los Al Derby and heads East for Bob Baffert, who has won this race three times already, including in 2016 with Cupid. Plus, Flavien Prat is giving up a Saturday at Del Mar to come out and ride. Behind them, I liked #6 RUGBYMAN’s runner-up effort in the Easy Goer but hated his subsequent performance in the G3 Dwyer, where he just never looked engaged. #8 MR FREEZE is a highly regarded Dale Romans colt (Romans won this race in 2006 with Bright One) and #9 HIGH NORTH won the Iowa Derby last out.
1. Draft Pick (3/1)
2. Once On Whiskey (5/2)
3. Mr Freeze (9/2)
Race 9 – Allowance ($25,100) – WV-Bred F&M 3YO+ - 6 Furlongs on the Dirt
#4 T REX EXPRESS won this same race last year by 6 1/4-lengths and she’s a perfect 2-for-2 at Mountaineer, so you have to respect her chances. #6 MY SWEET CHARITY won her local debut on July 16 by 2 1/4-lengths and if you use those two in the Late Pick 4, you’ll probably be pretty confident going into the nightcap.
1. T Rex Express (9/5)
2. My Sweet Charity (2/1)
3. Pa’s Little Sister (6/1)