Stakes, stakes, and nothing more than stakes! If you like stakes racing, that’s all you’ll get Saturday at Mountaineer Casino Racetrack & Resort. With nine stakes races on the card, the West Virginia track did not bother adding any filler events, on which should be an outstanding day of racing for fans and handicappers alike. Headlining the big day will be the 45th running of the $750,000 West Virginia Derby. A field of nine is ready to do battle in the Grade 2 affair, including a trio of colts who competed in this year’s Kentucky Derby.
My top selection for the nine furlong feature will be Tapiture. The three-time graded stakes winner, visits Mountaineer off a sharp victory in the Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs. Previous to that, he made a nice backstretch move in the Kentucky Derby, but could not sustain down the stretch after running wide the entire trip. Before that, he ran three solid races at Oaklawn Park, including an easy win in the Southwest Stakes. The son of Tapit is trained by four-time West Virginia Derby winner Steve Asmussen, and will be ridden by Rosie Napravnik. Together, Rosie and Tapiture and Rosie should be able to work out an ideal stalking trip behind plenty of early speed, from his number five post position.
Candy Boy should be tickled pink to see neither California Chrome nor Shared Belief in the paddock before the race. The winner of the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis Memorial at Santa Anita in February, the son of Candy Ride has finished behind one or the other of the talented pair in each of his four losses since romping in a Hollywood Park maiden race last November. Most recently, the 9-5 morning line favorite finished second to the undefeated Shared Belief in the Los Alamitos Derby. Trained by John W. Sadler, Candy Boy will be ridden by Corey Nakatani, who won the West Virginia Derby two years ago aboard Macho Macho.
Chief among the early speed in the West Virginia Derby is Vicar’s In Trouble. A romping winner of the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds in March, the dark bay has been unsuccessful in two starts since, but should be ready to roll on Saturday. After receiving a rough trip in the Run for the Roses, Vicar’s In Trouble pushed a solid pace in the sloppy Iowa Derby before tiring for third. He should be tougher in his second race since the Kentucky Derby. Trained by Michael Maker, Vicar’s In Trouble will have Alan Garcia in the saddle for the first time.
Hoping to crash the big 3 party will be For Goodness Sake. The Michael Tomlinson charge enters off back-to-back romping wins in a pair of two-turn races in Louisville. A son of Big Brown, For Goodness Sake won the maiden and allowance, while on or near the lead, by a combined 17 lengths at Churchill Downs after losing his first three starts.
Rounding out the West Virginia Derby field are: Jerome runner-up Classic Giacnroll; Divine View, an optional claimer winner from the Larry Jones barn; Gold Appointment, a stakes winner against Louisiana-breds; Only I Know, a local allowance winner; and Key for Success, who enters the big race as a maiden.
Highlighting the undercard stakes Saturday at Mountaineer will be the $200,000 West Virginia Governor’s Stakes. Contested one race before the Derby, the 8 ½ furlong affair has attracted the white-hot Moonshine Mullin, who has defeated the 2013 three-old-old champion Will Take Charge in each of his last two starts including the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill most recently. His top competition includes Cornhusker hero Carve, Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship winner Falling Sky, and last year’s Preakness third Mylute.