CHESTER - When Strike Impact went to the post in last year's $75,000 Independence Day Stakes at Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort, he had an impressive career bankroll, but no black-type triumphs on his resume.
The latter status has since changed, rather substantially. Strike Impact took the Independence Day in a photo finish, picking up a winner's of $45,675, his largest paycheck to date. And in December at Fair Grounds in New Orleans, he took the Buddy Diliberto Memorial Handicap.
Tuesday, the 9-year-old gelding will try for a repeat score in the Independence Day Stakes, which is carded for 3-year-olds and up.
TRYING TO REPEAT — Strike Impact (1) looks for back-to-back wins in the Independence Day Stakes at Mountaineer Casine Racetrack and Resort on Tuesday.
"He's been training very well," said Strike Impact's trainer, Patrick J. Dupuy, who is based at Churchill Downs in Louisville. "We're looking forward to shipping up there."
Registering consecutive Independence Day victories is not an unprecedented feat. Honorable Colonel did it in 1998-'99; as did Cherokee Prince in 2006-'07; and Timeless Fashion in 2009-'10.
Strike Impact has the credentials to become the fourth member of this group. His career statistics include 73 career starts, from which he has gained 18 wins, 21 placings and purse earnings of $670,106.
He was sent off as the 4-5 favorite in the 2012 Independence Day field, but had a troubled trip. The stakes is scheduled at one mile on the turf, and requires negotiating a pair of somewhat narrow turns on the Mountaineer grass course.
In last year's race, Strike Impact moved to a short lead on the far turn. He then had to down-gear his momentum while in tight quarters along the rail, and dropped back to third position with a furlong remaining. But jockey John McKee guided him around traffic to the outside, and Strike Impact had enough of a closing kick to win by a length.
A different pilot will be aboard Strike Impact this year. Dupuy will give a leg up to Brian Hernandez Jr., whose accomplishments include victories with Fort Larned in the 2012 edition of the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita and the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap two weeks ago at Churchill.
Hernandez, age 27, is originally from Lafayette, La., and has mostly performed under the radar during his 11 seasons of riding. His career wins total 1,126, including 51 in stakes.
With Fort Larned, Hernandez also won last year's Grade 1 Whitney Invitational at Saratoga, and he booted Departing to a 3 length score in this year's Grade 3 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne.
In 2010, Hernandez rode the long shot Not Abroad to an unplaced finish in the Grade 2 West Virginia Derby (that was the year Concord Point won). But Hernandez does have a stakes win at Mountaineer - he was victorious in the 2006 Slipton Fell Handicap with the Niall O'Callaghan trainee, Summer Book.
Strike Impact is co-owned by Dupuy and Chester J. Miller. The latter is from Simpsonville, Ky., and likes to be the van driver when Strike Impact ships. It's a 367-mile journey from Louisville to Mountaineer. Strike Impact has made the trip before, with some pretty fair results.
NOTES: Tuesday's card will also include the $75,000 Firecracker Stakes for fillies mares, 3-year-olds and up, at one mile on the turf. Last year's winner, Revelstoke, is among the nominees. The Firecracker and Independence Day Stakes are the first two black-type events on the Mountaineer schedule, which is highlighted by the all-stakes West Virginia Derby card on Aug. 3 ... With three days remaining in Mountaineer's second meet of the year, which extends from April 1 to June 3, Luis Raul Rivera led Deshawn Parker in the jockey standings, 56 wins to 55.