CHESTER - Trainer Michael J. Maker tends to be a closed-mouthed sort. But it's no secret that his 3-year-old gelding Vicar's in Trouble seems well-fitted for the Grade 2, $750,000 West Virginia Derby presented by Xpressbet on Aug. 2.
The featured event at Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort is run at 1 1/8 miles on the dirt - the same distance and surface that Vicar's in Trouble encountered when winning the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds on March 29.
It was a wire-to-wire effort, and Vicar's in Trouble made it look easy, drawing off by 3 lengths at the end. It was his second two-turn graded stakes victory. Vicar's in Trouble had also won the Grade 3 LeComte at one mile and 70 yards at Fair Grounds in mid-January.
Stayers with speed have been known to do well in the West Virginia Derby. Western Pride registered a front running victory in the (then) track record time of 1:47 1/5 in 2001. Wiseman's Ferry, Bright One and Concord Point all won recent editions of the event running near or on the front throughout.
Vicar's in Trouble is a Louisiana-bred, and horses born in his home state don't frequently do well in major stakes. But this gelding is proven. All of his stakes efforts to date have occurred in open company. His career resume includes seven starts, three wins, a trio of placings and purse earnings of $813,900.
He was bred by Spendthrift Farm, and is by the sire Into Mischief, who was a Grade 1 winner during his own days at the track. Vibrant, the dam of Vicar's in Trouble, is a granddaughter of Wild Again and Tank's Prospect, both of whom were multiple Grade 1 winners at route distances when they raced.
Sold at auction for $8,000 as a yearling, Vicar's in Trouble was "pin-hooked" (industry parlance for being re-sold) for $80,000 at auction at age 2. The first transaction could be termed a sharp steal; the second, in retrospect, was felonious larceny.
The gelding has returned an average of $116,271 per trip postward for his owners, Ken and Sarah Ramsey. For their success last year, the Ramseys received Eclipse Awards as the outstanding Thoroughbred breeders and owners in North America. (It was their second Eclipse in the owner category.)
Vicar's in Trouble broke his maiden at second asking at Fair Grounds last December. Since then, he has competed only in graded events. He finished unplaced in the Kentucky Derby, but was a solid third in the Grade 3 Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows on June 28.
He had an eight-week layoff between his Kentucky and Iowa Derby efforts, and could be primed for a knockout performance. Maker's not saying much. He never does, and he's not a man to make lofty predictions.
But through Thursday, Maker ranked eighth among all North American trainers in purse earnings, with $5.2 million. For the whole of 2013 he also ranked eighth, accumulating nearly $8.36 million. Maker has a knack of entering his horses in stakes where they have excellent chances.
Maker's had one prior try in the West Virginia Derby, sending out the 3-5 favorite Hansen to a frustrating fourth-place finish in 2012. Hansen had the lead until the final furlong, then ran short of gas (it turned out to be his final career start).
Evidence suggests, however, that Vicar's in Trouble has plenty of petrol in his tank. He's got the necessary breeding, past performances, speed and staying ability to put on a quite a show. Being handled by the Maker/Ramsey team constitutes a pretty fair credential as well.