The West Virginia Derby (GII): Now and Then

I enjoy Mountaineer racetrack, which races during the evening from March to December. Anyone wanting to gain expertise in the nuances of conditioned $5K claimers would be wise to play. But, on Saturday, the track takes a break from its workman-like cards to host several stakes races, highlighted by the GII West Virginia Derby for three-year olds going with a purse of $750K.

This is the sixth installment of the race at its current GII grading and is a particularly deep renewal of this nine-furlong race. This year’s race is especially notable for the presence of three 2014 Kentucky Derby starters: Candy Boy (13th) Vicar’s in Trouble (19th), and Tapiture (15th). In fact, the past five years, it’s been quite uncommon to see Derby runners here, with only Overanalyze, Hansen, and 2009 Derby Winner Mine that Bird having run in both. None of them found the winner’s circle — a streak that likely could end this year.

It’s always great to see horses return from the grueling Triple Crown trail during the three-year old season. These three are all making their second starts since the Derby, but only Tapiture can claim a win in his last out — doing it nicely in the Matt Winn Stakes (although Candy Boy may deserve a pass given the beast who is Shared Belief). Vicar’s in Trouble certainly has some past excuses. He drew the dreaded “1” post position for the Derby and raced in the mud in the Iowa Derby. But, that said, this is a horse that has run his best when he gets the lead. That’s no given today.  The public will likely bet these three heavily — although they make back off Vicar’s in Trouble a bit — and the winner will likely be be one of them.

Of the other horses in this year’s field, For Goodness Sake brings the best speed. Claimed from Chad Brown in February, this horse was scintillating in two performances at Churchill during the spring meet. He also has won at the 9f distance – something that only Vicar’s in Trouble has done among the rest of the field. He’d need to improve yet again, and might need to rate off what could be a hot pace. But, of the later developing horses, he probably has the best shot. Divine View ships from the mid-atlantic circuit for Larry Jones. He’d need major improvement, or regression from the others to find the winner’s circle. The rest are longshots.

To get even more excited for Saturday’s race, enjoy a look back at the past five years of the West Virginia Derby:


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Image: “West Virginia”, Noe Alfaro, Copyright 2013.