NEW CUMBERLAND - The Grade 2, $750,000 West Virginia Derby always lures one or more participants who are somewhat surprising. A horse that fits the category is Say Ow, who Saturday at Mountaineer Racetrack makes his initial career effort in stakes company, graded or otherwise.
Say Ow has done all his prior running at Southern California tracks. He broke his maiden in his seventh try, at Hollywood Park on May 25. In late June, he was a two-length winner at Hollywood in allowance/optional claiming company.
Both victories were achieved at a distance of 1 1/16 miles on Hollywood's synthetic surface. At Mountaineer on Saturday, Say Ow is stretching out a half-furlong further on the dirt.
MAKING HIS DEBUT — Say Ow and trainer Charles “Chuck” Kieser will take on the big guns at Mountaineer on Saturday.
-- Belinda Madrid/Coady?Photography
A gelding, Say Ow is owned by the Premier Co., an outfit headed by Jeffrey DeHaven, and was conditioned in Southern California by Julio C. Canani. Say Ow was the first West Virginia Derby horse to ship to Mountaineer this year - he arrived July 13 at the Hancock County track, where Charles "Chuck" Kieser is handling training duties.
Kieser, age 59, is originally from Buffalo, N.Y. He got his start in the racing business at Fort Erie in Canada, and was jockey prior to becoming a conditioner. He now lives in Rogers, Ohio, and has an eight-horse string (including Say Ow) at Mountaineer.
This is Kieser's first try with a horse in the West Virginia Derby. He has sent forth runners seven prior times in stakes, but has yet to win or place. "It's exciting," Kieser said. "I've always hoped for an opportunity like this."
Bred in Kentucky, Say Ow was a May 6 foal. Thoroughbreds who take their first steps that late in the season often don't gain their best strides until the second half of their 3-year-old campaigns.
His Hollywood victories were achieved in clockings of 1:43.40 and 1:43.46, respectively, and its interesting to note that neither of this year's West Virginia Derby big guns - Overanalyze or Departing - moved that quickly in an 8 -furlong race.
Say Ow is a long shot on Saturday, but his sire, Langfuhr, was at 19-1 the longest shot in the race when he won the 1996 Forego Handicap at Saratoga. Morning gallops and a pair of shorter, quicker moves have allowed Say Ow to become accustomed to the Mountaineer main surface. On July 16, he breezed four furlongs in 50 flat.
On Monday at Mountaineer, with exercise rider Julie Mandalfino aboard, Say Ow completed a five-furlong work in :59.40. "I didn't realize he was going that fast," said Kieser. "I was really surprised, happily so, when the clocker told me."
While his sire was a multiple Grade 1 winning sprint-to-one-mile competitor, Say Ow's dam, Lacy Lady, pretty much competed for claiming tags. Lacy Lady raced for three years, making 28 starts and winning six of them. Her purse earnings totaled $124,550. She paid her way.
And, so far, Say Ow has earned his room and board as well. From eight starts he's either won or placed on four occasions, and has compiled a bankroll of $88,560. Many a more illustriously-bred horse has not done nearly as well.
Good horses have tended to emerge under Canani's care. In 1989, he sent out Martial Law to win the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap. Canani has twice won the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Mile, with Silic in 1999 and with Val Royal in 2001. And he won the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies with Sweet Catomine in 2004.
If Say Ow wins the West Virginia Derby, he will be the first gelding to do so since Da Devil in 1998. Form suggests that the task he faces on Saturday is demanding, but not impossible.
DERBY NOTES: Post positions for the West Virginia Derby will be drawn today. The six "definites" are Grade 1 Arkansas Derby winner Overanalyze, Grade 3 Illinois Derby winner Departing, graded stakes-placed Betweenhereand cool and Ruler of Love, stakes-placed Forever Thing, and Say Ow.