Nominations have closed for the 45th running of the Grade 2, $750,000 West Virginia Derby presented by Xpressbet. The 1 1/8-mile event will again highlight a nine-race card comprised entirely of open stakes on Saturday, August 2, at Mountaineer Casino Racetrack & Resort. Post time for the first race will be 2 p.m.
"The West Virginia Derby is our anchoring block, it's the pride of our entire race season," said Rose Mary Williams, director of racing at Mountaineer. "We get national notice during the days leading up to our Derby. And Derby Day itself is a representation of West Virginia racing at its very, very best.
This year's West Virginia Derby, for the first time in the race's history, has a title sponsor. Xpressbet is a leading internet and account betting service that enables account holders to wager on races online and by phone.
Forty-seven horses were nominated to this year's edition of the race. Among them are Candy Boy, winner of the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita; Tapiture, a Grade 2 and multiple Grade 3 winner from Steve Asmussen's Stable; and a record seven horses from the stable of the six-time Eclipse Award winning trainer Todd A. Pletcher.
The nomination list further includes Vicar's in Trouble, who won the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds in March; Jessica's Star, winner of the Grade 3 Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows in June; and Kid Cruz, who was victorious in the Grade 2 Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park on July 5.
Mountaineer's racing office considers Candy Boy to be a definite West Virginia Derby starter. The colt, trained by John H. Sadler, has a career resume that includes nine starts, two victories, four placings and purse earnings of $525,600. Along with his Robert B. Lewis victory, Candy Boy has twice placed in Grade 1 company, and has a trio of graded placings all told.
Tapiture is viewed as a West Virginia Derby "probable." Asmussen has won the race four times, an unmatched record for a trainer. Last November, Tapiture was a 4 -length winner of the Grade 2 Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs. He was victorious in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park in February, and was a two-length winner of his most recent effort, the Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill on June 14.
Pletcher, despite his voluminous accomplishments, has never won the West Virginia Derby he is zero-for-eight in the race (including a trio of second-place finishes). Pletcher's nominees this year include a pair of allowance winners, All Tied Up and Mr. Viber, at two-turn distances. But none of his nominees have won or placed in stakes, graded or otherwise. They do constitute something of a mystery group.
Iowa Derby winners tend to run well in the West Virginia Derby. Concord Point (in 2010) and Prayer for Relief (in 2011) were victorious in both races. In his most recent effort, Jessica's Star finished second in a photo in the Ohio Derby at Thistledown on July 19.
Two weeks is considered a short turn-around period for a racehorse nowadays. But the timing of the West Virginia Derby would be a good fit for Vicar's in Trouble and Kid Cruz, both of whom are well rested and already accomplished at the nine-furlong distance.
With a heritage that dates back to 1923, when it had its inaugural running at the Tri-State Fair Grounds near Huntington, the West Virginia Derby retains its position as the state's oldest and most prominent race. Wheeling Downs also served for a short period as the race's host site. Mountaineer (formerly known as Waterford Park) has hosted the West Virginia Derby since 1963.
The West Virginia Derby card is the only one with an afternoon start during Mountaineer's scheduled 42-week racing season. Purses for the card will total $1.65 million. The West Virginia Derby will be televised on Fox Sports and TVG. Admission and general parking at Mountaineer, as always, will be free.