CHESTER - Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort commences its black-type season Wednesday with the Independence Day and Firecracker Stakes. Both events carry $75,000 purses and have been carded at one mile on the turf.
The Independence Day, for 3-year-olds and upward, has lured 11 entrants. Among them are Burn the Mortgage, who finished third in the Grade 2 Mervin Muniz Handicap at Fair Grounds in New Orleans in March; and Baccelo, a Brazilian import, who was a Grade 1 winner in his country of breeding and will be making his first start in the U.S.
Sharp Sally, who registered a 1 -length victory in the 2013 edition of the Firecracker, is returning to defend her title. The Firecracker has a full field of a dozen fillies and mares, 3-years-old and upwards, with an additional four on the "also eligible list" in case of scratches.
LOOKING TO REPEAT — Sharp Sally, winner of the 2013 Firecracker Stakes at Mountaineer, will attempt a repeat in the event on Wednesday.
-- Contributed/Coady Photography
"It's going to be our best race card so far this year - a pair of stakes; a $37,100 allowance sprint; purses all told of $259,400," said Rose Mary Williams, director of racing at Mountaineer. "If you're a sports enthusiast and want to celebrate the start of the holiday, come to the races."
With a history dating back to 1953, the Independence Day is one of the oldest stakes in West Virginia. It was won last year by Russell Road, who prevailed in a photo over Whatthecatdrugin.
Russell Road will not be seeking a repeat Independence Day score on Wednesday. But the 8-year-old gelding has been entered in another race on the card, a 5 -furlong allowance on the dirt.
From 48 career starts, Russell Road has accumulated 27 wins and 14 placings. Twenty of his triumphs have occurred in stakes. His career earnings total $1.65 million. Russell Road is one of the most successful West Virginia-breds in history.
Burn the Mortgage has some solid credentials as well. The 5-year-old horse is by Kitten's Joy, who was North America's leading sire in 2013 and commands a $100,000 stud fee.
Burn the Mortgage is owned and trained by Michael Maker, who in recent times has won conditioning titles at Keeneland and Churchill Downs.
From 27 career starts, Burn the Mortgage has gained seven wins, eight placings and purses totaling $283,079. True, he has only recently ascended from claiming ranks - on Feb. 7, Burn the Mortgage won for a $50,000 tag at Gulfstream Park. But converting a claimer to a stakes-caliber runner is a Maker specialty.
Baccelo, a 4-year-old colt by Northern Afleet, has made nine of his 10 career starts at the Hipodromo de Gavea in Rio de Janeiro. It's a long way from there to West Virginia's Northern Panhandle, but trainer Eduardo Caramori plans to run him at Mountaineer on Wednesday.
In June of last year, Baccelo won the Grade 1 Jockey Club Brasileiro. He has also placed in a trio of other Grade 1 stakes at Gavea. Among "mystery horses" who have ventured up the pike to Mountaineer over the decades, Baccelo fits the definition as well as any.
Sharp Sally has her own set of question marks. Will she demonstrate the same form Wednesday that gained her an authoritative win in last year's Firecracker, along with stakes placings at Monmouth Park and Indiana Downs? Or will the 5-year-old mare fade in the stretch the way she did in her 2014 seasonal debut on June 10 at Mountaineer?
Her competition on Wednesday includes Miss Mischief, a stakes winner at Aqueduct; Soft Whisper, who has placed in stakes at five different tracks during the past 12 months; and Sassy Kitten, who's another Kitten's Joy offspring trained by Maker.
It will be a pressing chore for Sharp Sally to attain a Firecracker repeat. But she has a chance, which sometimes is all that's needed.
The first post for Wednesday's nine-race card will be at 7 p.m.