A vintage year for California-based three-year-old colts could become even more memorable if Candy Boy makes a successful invasion of Mountaineer for the Grade 2, $750,000 West Virginia Derby on Saturday.
The 1 ⅛-mile feature, which attracted a field of nine, is the highlight of an all-stakes, nine-race card that is traditionally Mountaineer's lone foray into daytime racing during its extended Thoroughbred meet.
In the shadows of such standouts as California Chrome, whom he chased in the Santa Anita Derby and Kentucky Derby, and champion Shared Belief, who he finished second to last out in the Los Alamitos Derby, Candy Boy will attempt to earn his first stakes win since taking the Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita in February and follow-up on the success of Bayern in last weekend's Haskell Invitational.
It will not be an easy task. Tapiture has three graded stakes wins to his credit, including a 4 ¼-length tally in the Southwest at Oaklawn in February. Last time, the Tapit colt rebounded from a poor showing in the Kentucky Derby to claim the Matt Winn at Churchill Downs by two lengths.
Vicar's in Trouble, the Louisiana Derby winner, could be the most dangerous of the three. The Mike Maker trainee did not show his customary foot as the 7-5 favorite in the Iowa Derby last out, and ultimately faded to third over a sloppy track. If able to outbreak the other speed, which have less class, Vicar's in Trouble could replicate the form that produced two graded stakes wins at Fair Grounds last winter.
The big three all raced in the Kentucky Derby, though none were much of a factor. Candy Boy finished 13th and Tapiture 15th after meeting trouble in the first turn, while Vicar's in Trouble also was roughed up en route to trailing the field of 19.
WEST VIRGINIA DERBY DRAW
The remainder of the field all have form to find. For Goodness Sake has landed in a tough spot for his stakes debut, but daylight maiden and allowance wins during the Churchill spring meet mark him as a progressive sort. Classic Giacnroll finished second in the Jerome back in January, but has picked up only minor checks against easier since.
Divine View, runner-up against allowance foes at Delaware Park last time, and the Louisiana-bred stakes winner Gold Appointment, complete the field along with extreme outsiders Only I Know and Key for Success.
Moonshine Mullin, whose five-race win streak includes back-to-back wins in the Churchill Downs' major spring stakes for older horses, the Stephen Foster Handicap and Alysheba, headlines the $200,000 West Virginia Governor's at 1 1/16 miles.
Likely to keep the ex-claimer on his toes is multiple Grade 3 winner Falling Sky, who stretches back out after taking the Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship and Donald LeVine Memorial in two of his last four starts.
A swift pace might aid Carve, last-out winner of the Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap, and the classic-placed Mylute, unplaced twice behind Moonshine Mullin at Churchill Downs and in the Suburban Handicap last time.
Noted sprint star Delaunay figures to be an overwhelming favorite in the $100,000 Senator Robert C. Byrd Memorial over six furlongs. The Tom Amoss-trained seven-year-old has won numerous stakes throughout the Midwest and Louisiana, highlighted by graded scores in the Churchill Downs and Aristides in Louisville.
Mico Margarita , who's finished behind Delaunay in their two recent outings, is back to oppose. Other possible contenders include multiple stakes veterans Star Harbour, Res Judicata, Ghost Is Clear, Russell Road and Lucy's Bob Boy.
A more contentious race might be the $100,000 West Virginia Secretary of State. The six-furlong dash for fillies and mares includes the venerable seven-year-old Winning Image, a prominent force on the Mid-Atlantic circuit, and Flattering Bea, who landed the Sugar Maple at Charles Town in April and was runner-up in this event last year.
The Kentucky invaders Sweet Cassiopeia, Aireofdistinction, and Anahauc also merit respect.
The $100,000 West Virginia House of Delegates, at one mile and 70 yards on turf, features Regally Ready, a past winner of the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint who has developed into a capable miler in the region. He earned back-to-back wins at Churchill Downs in May, including the $64,000 Opening Verse.
Free World, hero of the $207,000 Centaur at Indiana Downs last season, was a solid fifth in the Firecracker at Churchill last time and might prove tough to catch. Coalport, a multiple stakes winner campaigned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, is another leading contender in his second start off a layoff.
The top two finishers from Mountaineer's version of the Firecracker, a $75,000 stakes for fillies and mares run on July 2, highlight a contentious renewal of the $100,000 West Virginia Senate President's Cup at one mile and 70 yards on the turf. La Malaguena and Sassy Kitten were separated by a neck in that heat, but will need their running shoes on to cope with graded stakes-placed veterans Moment in Dixie and Queen's Award, as well as Canadian invader Surtsey and the capable pair of Quiet Success and Soft Whisper.
Recent maiden winners Tapitsphere and Gotta Get Paid should attract plenty of support in the $100,000 Mountaineer Juvenile over six furlongs, but the respective Churchill and Indiana Grand graduates figure to be challenged by the swift Arlington-based colt Creaky Cricket, and Hashtag Bourbon, a son of Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver who could improve off his debut third at Churchill.
A. P.'s Glory figures to be an overwhelming favorite to follow up her 7 ½-length Arlington debut victory with a score in the $100,000 Mountaineer Juvenile Fillies, also at six furlongs. Another daylight maiden winner, Brennan, exits an eight-length romp at Penn National, while Churchill maiden winner Rachel's Ready was never involved after a slow break in the $108,000 Debutante last time.v
Uncle Todd, who has won three straight by a combined margin of 21 ¼ lengths, will try and outgun 10 rivals in the $100,000 West Virginia Legislature Chairman's Cup going 4 ½ furlongs. Among those hoping to keep pace with that one are Amarish, Debt Ceiling, No Distinction, Beat Seattle, and Grade 3 turf winner Berlino Di Tiger.