CHESTER - Seventy horses have been nominated to the Grade 2, $750,000 West Virginia Derby. The 43rd edition of the 1 1/8-mile event will anchor a nine-race card comprised entirely of stakes on Aug. 4 at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort.
Among the definite contenders is Hansen, who won the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs and was North America's 2-year-old male champion in 2011.
"We plan to ship him to Mountaineer from the Churchill training center the day before the race," said Hansen's trainer, Michael J. Maker. "This is a good spot for him."
COMING TO MOUNTAINEER — Among the definite contenders participating in the West Virginia Derby on Aug. 4 is Hansen, who won the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs and was North America’s 2-year-old male champion in 2011.
-- Courtesy Coady Photography
Also on the "definite" list is Hero of Order, who, at odds of 109-1, was victorious in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds in New Orleans in April.
"We'd like to bring him up from Kentucky on either Monday or Tuesday," said Gennadi Dorochenko, the colt's trainer. "We'll also have a few other horses running at Mountaineer that day."
The list of West Virginia Derby "probables" includes Blueskiesnrainbows, who was a front-running, three-quarter-length winner of the Grade 2 Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park on July 4. Blueskiesnrainbows is trained by Bob Baffert, who won the last two renewals of the West Virginia Derby with Concord Point and Prayer for Relief.
Macho Macho, trained by three-time West Virginia Derby winner Steve Asmussen, is also considered probable. Macho Macho finished third in the Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill in June, and was a close second in the Long Branch Stakes at Monmouth Park on July 8.
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas has indicated Skyring is a likely West Virginia Derby starter. Skyring won the James W. Murphy Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in May and finished third in a photo in the Grade 3 American Derby at Arlington Park on July 14. Lukas has 1,075 career stakes scores, but a West Virginia Derby victory is not among them.
Easter Gift, a Nick Zito trainee, is viewed by the Mountaineer racing office as a "possible" West Virginia Derby contender. Lightly raced, Easter Gift won his first two career starts, and then finished second by a neck in the Grade 3 Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth in June. Zito won the 2004 West Virginia Derby with Sir Shackleton.
Todd Pletcher, who trains an army of stakes horses, has added Raconteur to the West Virginia Derby "possible" group. Raconteur won the Private Terms Stakes at Laurel Park in March, but has not raced since finishing unplaced in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park in April. Pletcher has yet to add a West Virginia Derby win to his resume.
Rousing Sermon, trained by Northern California's perennial leading conditioner Jerry Hollendorfer, is among the group of "possibles." Rousing Sermon is a colt who frequently knocks on doors. He finished second in the Grade 1 Cash Call Futurity at Hollywood last December, third in the Louisiana Derby and fourth, beaten three lengths, in the Swaps.
Mountaineer will award a $150,000 bonus to any horse who has already triumphed in Grade 1 company and wins the West Virginia Derby as well. This means a potential paycheck of $600,000 - the same amount a horse earns for winning the Preakness, Belmont Stakes, Haskell Invitational Handicap or Travers Stakes.
The West Virginia Derby card will have a special first post of 2 p.m. The derby itself will have an approximate post of 5:40 p.m. The race will be televised live nationally in high definition via a one-hour broadcast on Fox Sports Net (FSN).
Admission and general parking at Mountaineer, as always, will be free.
NOTES: Mike Smith will ride Hansen. The 46-year-old Smith, a Hall of Fame member and two-time Eclipse Award recipient, finished third aboard Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird in the 2009 West Virginia Derby ... Baffert has entered Prayer for Relief in the Grade 2, $200,000 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar on Saturday. The 4-year-old colt followed last year's West Virginia Derby score with a victory in the Grade 2 Super Derby at Louisiana Downs, and has placed four times in graded company since then. Baffert is pointing Prayer for Relief toward Del Mar's Grade 1 Pacific Classic, a million-dollar event, on Aug. 26.