The New Kent County Virginia Derby has served as a springboard to stardom this century for champions Kitten’s Joy, English Channel, and Gio Ponti and has for years been a key fixture of the meet at Colonial Downs. The 1 1/8-mile, Grade 3 race drew a robust field of 11 3-year-old males led by unbeaten Grade 1 winner Program Trading and Gigante, winner of the Grade 2 Secretariat Stakes on this turf course on Aug. 12.
new kent county virginia derby
1. Freedom Trail (20-1 morning-line odds): Winless in five starts since a victory in the Awad Stakes in his second career race. Has faced quality competition throughout his career, but Freedom Trail enters off a third as the 3-2 favorite in the Kent Stakes at Delaware Park and this assignment is considerably tougher.
2. Gigante (6-1): He’s been a little up and down in his career but when he’s good, he’s very good as evidenced by his win in the Secretariat Stakes here at 22.90-1 odds Aug. 12. Seems to like this turf course as he’s won twice with a third in four races on the grass at Colonial Downs. He’s a win candidate but he won’t pay $47.80 for a $2 win bet if he gets the job done again.
3. Runaway Storm (12-1): Lightly raced but very interesting wild card coming off back-to-back front-running wins at Laurel Park going 1 1/8 miles in June and Horseshoe Indianapolis at 1 1/16 miles in August. Earned a solid speed figure for his recent allowance win and could be the one to catch. Potentially dangerous.
4. Salute the Stars (4-1): A stakes winner on dirt in 2023 after beginning his career on the grass and winning one of two turf starts last year. He’s back on grass here after an unplaced finish in the TVG.com Haskell Stakes, where he was rank early and encountered some trouble. He can be a real handful in races, but if new rider Sheldon Russell can settle him early he could spring a surprise in his return to sod.
5. Dataman (15-1): Well-bred Wertheimer and Frere homebred appears to be coming into his own in the second half of his 3-year-old season with an off-the-turf runaway win followed by a three-quarter-length score at 12.40-1 odds in the Bald Eagle Derby at Laurel Park. Intriguing and could be a nice price.
6. Mondego (5-1): Posted two wins and one second in his first four starts, all at this 1 1/8-mile distance on the grass, then hooked up with the big boys in Grade 1 races. He led in deep stretch in the 1 ¼-mile Belmont Deby Invitational Stakes before giving way late when third, beaten by a length. He was then unplaced on yielding turf in the1 3/16-mile Saratoga Derby Invitational Stakes. This feels like an ideal spot for a return to form.
7. Activist Investing (10-1): Figures to attract plenty of money coming out of back-to-back wins from the barn of elite turf trainer Chad Brown, although stablemate Program Trading almost certainly will generate more support of the two Brown entrants. Expect Activist Investing to be right in the mix in deep stretch.
8. Laurel Valley (30-1): Got a dream trip in most recent start when earning his first win in his sixth career start against New York-breds Aug. 23 at Saratoga. It sure looks like he’ll be challenged for the lead in the Virginia Derby and this is a much tougher group than the non-winners he beat last time.
9. Integration (8-1): Won his career debut by 6 ½ lengths here at Colonial in a 1 1/16-mile race Aug. 12. Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey is known for his patience so seeing Integration entered in a Grade 2 race in his second start indicates he thinks very highly of this Quality Road colt out of Grade 1 winner Harmonize. It could be too much too soon for Integration … or maybe he’s a special 3-year-old. We’ll find out Saturday.
10. Ari Gold (8-1): Another entrant with speed, Ari Gold enters off a runner-up finish to fellow Virginia Derby entrant Dataman in the Bald Eagle Derby. He figures to be double-digit odds for the accomplished jockey-trainer tandem of Jose Ortiz and Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, which speaks to the depth of this field as a victory would be no surprise.
11. Program Trading (7-2): Unbeaten in three starts and coming off a Grade 1 win for trainer Chad Brown in the Saratoga Derby Invitational Stakes, Program Trading figures to be the post-time favorite in the Virginia Derby. He drew a tough post but has the tactical speed to gain decent early position.
THE PICK: Mondego