Normally, Mountaineer Park is a sanctuary for horseplayers who play at night during the week. But once a year, the track garners national attention with the GIII West Viriginia Derby. The race was a GII from 2009-2016 and, for this edition, the purse has seen a reduction to $500,000, its lowest level since 2001. But the race has still brought a field of up and coming horses looking to establish themselves in the division and gain a graded stakes victory.
Two horses in the field already have graded stakes victory and they are likely the two favorites come post time. Draft Pick won the GIII Affirmed Stakes at Santa Anita before finishing second to Once on Whiskey in the GIII Los Alamitos Derby. Draft Pick ran much faster in the Affirmed and possibly could simply have not cared for the Los Alamitos or the 9-furlong distance of the Los Alamitos Derby. Once on Whiskey won stretching out after two good races at 7 furlongs. He did not run a very fast Beyer Speed Figure — 86 — in the Los Alamitos Derby win. However, that very well could be fast enough to win in this field today.
High North won the Iowa Derby with an 84 Beyer. His best win may be the Northern Spur, a competitive race at 8.5 furlongs on the Arkansas Derby undercard. He ran a 91 Beyer in that race. He certainly has a shot, but I’m not sure he wants the distance. Rugbyman tries 9 furlongs for the first time. This is his 5th-lifetime start. Among those area 14 length score in the mud at Belmont and a 2nd by a neck in the Easy Goer on the Belmont undercard. He was crushed by Firenze Fire in the Dwyer, but his Beyer came back from that as a competitive 84.
Mr. Freeze is making only his 4th lifetime start. In his last start, he finished 2nd to High North in Iowas Derby. Before that, he earned an 89 Beyer at Churchill Downs in a 3YO first-level allowance win. This is his first attempt at 9 furlongs. Lionite finished 3rd in the Iowa Derby and won the local prep for that race. But, excluding his maiden breaker, he hasn’t run fast enough to win here. The extra distance is his main hope. Caloric, King Cause, and Pamir haven’t run fast enough in their careers and with the exception of King Cause, significant improvement is unlikely by the other two. I wouldn’t be shocked to see King Cause hit the board, despite being seemingly overmatched.
Analysis: This is as wide-open 3YO race we’ve seen in a while. I like Rugbyman on the stretchout to 9 furlongs. He’s by super-sire Tapit. At this distance, I think he’s faster than the two horses coming from the Los Alamitos Derby (Draft Pick, Once on Whiskey) and faster than the Iowa Derby winner (High North). Hopefully, he’s a price, especially with the presence of a Baffert horse in the field (Once on Whiskey).