Sunday evening’s Grade 3, $500,000 West Virginia Derby has attracted a full field of 3-year-old males to Mountaineer, and the race looks to be wide open. The Gotham Stakes (G3) winner Raise Cain could be the top choice of the bettors off his near miss in last month’s Indiana Derby (G3), but even picking the possible favorite is not easy, let alone the winner.
Filled with uncertainty, the signature race of the state looks to be a true crapshoot. The only thing about the 1 1/8-mile race that seems to be a near certainty in the 12-horse field is which horse will be on the early lead. His name is One in Vermillion, and he has an interesting story.
Several in the race come from familiar connections and have been running in well-known graded stakes races, but this son of the young sire Army Mule is not that.
Purchased as a yearling for $26,000 at a November auction in Arizona, the chestnut colt has proven to be a bargain for his owner Jonathan Kalman. To date, One in Vermillion has earned $328,840 while winning half of his 10 career starts.
That win total of five could be better if he had not been disqualified and placed second last time when he gamely held on for a dead heat for the win but was placed second for drifting out in the Iowa Derby stretch.
Now, he will attempt to carry his speed a little farther as he looks for his first graded-stakes win in the West Virginia Derby on Sunday.
Trained by the Arizona-based Esteban Martinez, the California-bred colt started three times as a juvenile in 2022. After running second in his debut going 4 1/2 furlongs at Turf Paradise in April, One in Vermillion scored a pair of stakes victories while sprinting at the same Arizona track.
His wins in the Open Spring Futurity and Lost in the Fog Juvenile came in May and December, respectively, before he stretched out to a mile for his sophomore debut.
There he gamely won the Riley Allison Derby at Sunland Park in New Mexico. Next was the $600,000 Sunland Park Derby (G3) and after acting up in the gate, One in Vermillion did not show his typical early speed and finished fifth.
His connections showed confidence in their colt, and he next tested Grade 1 waters in the Santa Anita Derby. He again was fifth but ran a good race, beaten only 4 1/2 lengths after setting all the pace.
He then dropped in distance for Santa Anita’s Laz Barrera Stakes four weeks later and romped home a big winner in the seven-furlong race.
Off that impressive win, One in Vermillion continued to rack up the frequent flier miles as he made his summer base in Minnesota with the rest of the Martinez string.
He won an allowance race while sprinting against older horses in his first start in the state, and then he proved his versatility by holding on for second in his turf debut in the Canterbury Derby.
Setting out on the road again, he was unlucky to lose the $250,000 Iowa Derby. Once again, though, One in Vermillion displayed plenty of speed and heart at Prairie Meadows.
Ridden by Harry Hernandez, a leading rider at Turf Paradise and Canterbury, in eight of his 10 career races, he once again will have the familiar pilot in the irons Sunday evening as he looks for his biggest win yet.
The West Virginia Derby will mark the sixth track and sixth state for the well-traveled colt. Not only does he travel, but he runs often, and he runs well. First or second eight times, this will be his ninth start since returning from a layoff in December.
Horses such as Wood Memorial (G2) winner Lord Miles, Gotham (G3) winner Raise Cain, the Steve Asmussen-trained Red Route One and the Brad Cox-trained Tapit’s Conquest might be more familiar names to most race fans, but One in Vermillion will be the one they all have to catch in the West Virginia Derby.
He is not a Kentucky blueblood, and he was purchased for less than most cars sell for these days, but One in Vermillion has proven to be a running son of a gun. The barnstorming colt from lesser-known connections might just lead them on a merry chase in this half million-dollar race.