The $750,000 West Virginia Derby (G2) highlights a stakes-filled card at Mountaineer Park on Saturday that has consistently drawn some of the nation’s top talent in recent years.
This year’s edition is headlined by Hansen, the 2011 champion 2-year-old male, who is looking to become the second son of Tapit to win this race in three years. The colt has proven to be special for many reasons: none of them involving the publicity stunt that will be his blue-tipped tail on raceday. Hansen, who is nearly white in color, has done very little wrong in his career. He tends to win by devastating double-digit margins and prefers to do so wire-to-wire. If he is vulnerable this weekend, it will be because of distance: progeny of Tapit simply aren’t known for being the best true routers, but Hansen’s lone experience at the distance was a runner-up effort in the Blue Grass Stakes (G1) that has to be excused for the prerace hoopla caused by dying the colt’s tail twice and for the fact that he ran into a horse, Dullahan, who simply excels on synthetic surface. The jockey switch to Mike Smith is not a major factor. Though known for his many close calls flying from out of the clouds on Zenyatta, Smith is an exceptional speed rider and should fit Hansen perfectly.
Also expected to be on or near the pace is the other Mike Maker trainee, Morgan’s Guerrilla. The chestnut son of Ghostzapper seems to prefer when there is some water in the ground and he will have to answer the distance-limitation question, though his lone effort at 1 1/8 miles was a strong second in the Illinois Derby (G3), where he got nipped on the wire by a fast-closing Done Talking.
In a race that shapes up to be full of speed, Darley Stable’s Le Bernardin is another who appears to need the lead. The dark bay colt was ridden perfectly by journeyman Mike Luzzi in winning the Pegasus Stakes (G3) at Monmouth Park in June, but the caliber of horse he beat was suspect.
Among those who can also sit off the pace is Macho Macho from the Steve Asmussen barn. The colt has excelled at sprint distances but also has proven gritty when stretching out, and with a little luck, would already be a stakes winner. In a very similar position is the Kellyn Gorder-trained Bourbon Courage. Though the son of Lion Heart has yet to start in a race run beyond a mile, his last two races have been in key contests that have seen the likes of Currency Swap and Paynter both get beat but come back to score in Grade 1 company.
Speaking of Paynter, though his Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has shipped in and won the last two runnings of this event with Concord Point and Prayer for Relief, he is without a starter this year. Instead, Pete Eurton will be the lone Southern California representative with longshot allowance winner Called to Serve. The son of dual classic winner Afleet Alex has shown an affinity for the distance, though he is taking a massive step up in class after a failed bid in the Swaps Stakes (G2). Interestingly, Daniel Centeno will be the colt’s seventh different jockey in seven career starts.
Former jockey Gennadi Dorochenko is looking for a better result than the Iowa Derby (G3), when he sent the pair of Macho Bull and Louisiana Derby (G2) upsetter Hero of Order to try and overthrow Hansen. The latter has been relatively consistent against the better horses this year, but Macho Bull appears to need plenty of class relief and to get back on the grass where his best races have been.
Rounding out the field are two horses also stepping up to face the toughest tasks of their careers. On the outside, Penn’s Grant is consistently around at the wire, but against allowance company at Delaware Park. And, lastly, Dale Romans is a master at placing his horses in the proper spots, so he must see something in Z Camelot that makes him think the maiden can take on a tough group of seasoned veterans.
$750,000 West Virginia Derby (G2)
Saturday, Mountaineer park, Race 8, 5:45 p.m. EDT
3-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles
PP., Horse, Jockey, Trainer, Odds
1. Macho Bull, E. Martin Jr., G Dorochenko, 30-to-1
2. Hero of Order, E. Martin Jr., G Dorochenko, 10-to-1
3. Z Camelot, D. Parker, D L Romans, 50-to-1
4. Macho Macho, C. Nakatani, S M Asmussen, 6-to-1
5. Morgan's Guerrilla, L. Goncalves, M J Maker, 12-to-1
6. Called to Serve, L. Goncalves, P Eurton, 20-to-1
7. Le Bernardin, M. Luzzi, K McLaughlin, 6-to-1
8. Bourbon Courage, D. Parker, K Gorder, 10-to-1
9. Hansen, M. Smith, M J Maker, 3-to-5
10. Penn's Grant, L. Garcia, L Delacour, 30-to-1