VIRGINIA DERBY | PURSE: $500,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS | GRADE 3 | 1 1/4 MILES (OUTER TURF)
Magdalena Racing's War Dancer just withstood the thrust of Charming Kitten in Saturday night's Grade 2, $500,000 Virginia Derby, with the late-running Jack Milton another head away in third, in a climactic conclusion to Colonial Downs' marquee race.
While War Dancer was registering his first career stakes decision in a mild upset at 7-1, the highly-regarded Rydilluc came up empty in the stretch and wound up a dead-heat eighth as the 5-2 favorite.
War Dancer had shown promise in his first two stakes appearances. Third in the May 3 American Turf at Churchill Downs, the Ken McPeek colt was second in the June 15 Centaur at Indiana Downs, and profited on the stretch-out to 1 ¼ miles here.
Redwood Kitten, one of a trio by 2004 Virginia Derby hero Kitten's Joy in Saturday's renewal, showed the way through fractions of :24, :48 4/5, 1:13 4/5 and 1:38 2/5 on the good outer turf. Rydilluc was traveling comfortably in second, and Charming Kitten was stalking on the rail. Alan Garcia had War Dancer nestled just off the pace, but the son of the red-hot War Front was stealthily creeping forward at every call.
Rydilluc tried to launch his bid at the top of the stretch, but the favorite found little under pressure. Although Redwood Kitten continued to lead, his hopes of springing a 14-1 surprise were diminishing as the closers played their hands.
War Dancer erupted on the outside, and Charming Kitten, who momentarily had to steady on the fence, managed to thread the needle inside of Redwood Kitten. War Dancer produced a better initial burst to strike the front, but Charming Kitten was still grinding it out, and coming ever closer. In deep stretch, Jack Milton flashed home to make it a three-way scramble.
As the trio crossed the wire in a final time of 2:03 2/5, the outcome hinged on the head-bob between War Dancer and Charming Kitten. The photo illustrated that War Dancer had his head in front when it counted, fueling mutuels of $16.80, $7.40 and $4.40.
It was another 3 ¼ lengths back to Draw Two in fourth, followed by Redwood Kitten, Fear the Kitten, Readyshakego, the dead-heating Rydilluc and Gefest, and the trailing Bethel.
With the $285,000 winner's check, War Dancer more than tripled his bankroll to $418,569 and improved his scorecard to 7-3-2-1. Making his debut in a January 12 turf maiden at Gulfstream Park, he finished second to fellow first-timer Jack Milton. War Dancer next tried dirt on February 9, but didn't appear as effective on the surface switch when fourth to Saint Vigeur, Wabbajack and Freedom Child. Back on the Gulfstream turf, War Dancer promptly broke his maiden by two lengths on March 9. He got off to a horrible start in an entry-level allowance at Keeneland on April 10, but recovered to produce an eye-catching, last-to-first performance, and earned his way into stakes company.
Bred by Cherry Valley Farm and Stuart S. Janney III in Kentucky, War Dancer brought $25,000 as a Keeneland November weanling. The dark bay was in greater demand as a yearling at Fasig-Tipton Saratoga, where he sold to his current connections for $220,000. Out of the Grade 2-placed Alydeed mare Deed I Do, War Dancer descends from the same female line as multiple Grade 3 winner Raja's Revenge and Grade 2 scorer Archer City Slew.
War Dancer's fourth dam is the influential matron Passing Look, dam of Grade 1 star Trumpet's Blare, Grade 3 victress Passing Vice and multiple stakes winner In My Cap, ancestress of Grade 1 hero and $3 million-earner Albert the Great.