Loose horse Eskenforit crosses the wire in front of Indiana Derby winner Mr. Money
Mr. Money, who has won three consecutive graded stakes with authority, looms the probable favorite for the $500,000, Grade III West Virginia Derby Aug. 3 at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort.
The 1 1/8-mile Derby for 3-year-olds attracted a field of 10. It is the eighth race on a nine-race Saturday program that has a special first post time of 2 p.m. The Derby, set for 5:35 p.m., is one of six stakes a card that has multiple large fields as of the draw.
Mr. Money, owned by Chester Thomas’ Allied Racing Stable, drew post 9, will be ridden as usual by Gabriel Saez and will carry 120 pounds.
After a couple of even efforts in two Grade II Louisiana preps for the Grade I Kentucky Derby, Mr. Money returned to Kentucky and racked up three consecutive victories, all of them Grade III stakes. He won the one-turn Pat Day Mile at Churchill Downs in May, the 1 1/16 Matt Winn at 1 1/16 miles at Churchill in June and the 1 1/16-mile Indiana Derby at Indiana Grand in July by a combined 14 ¼ lengths.
In his only start at the West Virginia Derby distance, Mr. Money was an even fifth in the Louisiana Derby, which was won by his stablemate, Allied Racing’s By My Standards. But the colt by Goldencents out of the Tiznow mare Plenty O’Toole has shown in recent outings the extra sixteenth of a mile shouldn’t be a problem.
The July 13 Indiana Derby offered an unusual challenge for Mr. Money, who took the lead turning for home and ended up having to change paths while racing against a horse with no rider. Eskenforit stumbled at the start, unseating jockey Julien Leparoux, but continued to run with the rest of the field to the finish.
Mr. Money came out of the race no worse for wear. He worked a half-mile at Churchill July 26 in a fast :46 2/5, quicker than trainer Bret Calhoun had wanted. But Calhoun said Saez, who worked the colt, told him he was “it was like he was galloping.”
“It seemed like it was pretty easy for him,” Calhoun said. “He cooled out well and wasn’t stressed about it.”
The day after the work the colt’s connections, who had considered waiting for the $1.25 million, Grade I Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course in late August, decided Mr. Money would make the trip to Mountaineer.
“Honestly, I let Bret direct the course, but we pretty much made up our minds after the workout (last Friday),” said Thomas, who owns about 75 Thoroughbreds and won his first graded stakes this year. “He’s certainly fresh enough, and the West Virginia Derby seemed the best path to do. We went back and forth with the pros and cons and decided the best course is to race (this weekend).
“The mile-and-an-eighth is a bump up in distance for him, but it seems like he can run all day. It’s going to be a tough race, though. We’ve been picking our spots, and so far so good.”
After the Aug. 24 Travers, major stakes for 3-year-olds are the $300,000, Grade III Super Derby at Harrah’s Louisiana Downs Sept. 7 and the $1 million, Grade I Pennsylvania Derby Sept. 21 at Parx Racing.
As a Group II stakes winner, Imperial Racing’s Plus Que Parfait, to be ridden by Corey Lanerie, will carry high weight of 122 pounds from post 4 in the West Virginia Derby. The Brendan Walsh trainee traveled to the United Arab Emirates and in late March won the UAE Derby, which earned him a berth in the Kentucky Derby. The Point of Entry ridgling finished an even ninth-placed-eighth in the 19-horse field and in his last start July 6 finished an even sixth in the Grade I Belmont Derby—a 1 ½-mile turf race.
Math Wizard, third in the Indiana Derby, drew post 8 and will be ridden by Florent Geroux at 118 pounds. Owned by John Fanelli, Collarmele Vitelli Stables, Bassett Stables, Ioannis Zoumas, Wynwood Thoroughbreds and trainer Saffie Joseph Jr., Math Wizard has made good on a modest investment.
The Algorithms colt was claimed for $25,000 in late January at Gulfstream Park in Florida and developed into a graded-stakes competitor. Before the Indiana Derby, Math Wizard finished second, beaten a half-length, in the Grade III Ohio Derby; fourth in the Oaklawn Park Invitational in Arkansas; and fourth in the Grade II Wood Memorial Stakes in New York.
Top Line Growth, a Maryland homebred owned by Stuart Grant’s The Elkstone Group, drew post 7 with regular rider Julian Pimentel named at 118 pounds. The Kelly Rubley-trained gelding now has three wins in four starts—the last having come July 5 in the $250,000 Iowa Derby, in which he finished second but was placed first after the disqualification of Winning Number for interference with another horse in the stretch.
Top Line Growth won his first start in late April at Laurel Park by 9 ½ lengths in a 1 1/16-mile maiden race. His sire, Tapizar, won the West Virginia Governor’s Stakes at Mountaineer at the same distance on the 2012 Derby program.
Steve Asmussen, the West Virginia Derby’s all-time leading trainer by wins with five, has entered Stud TNT’s Fluminense, who went from last to fourth in the Iowa Derby. Joe Bravo is named to ride at 118 pounds from post 6.
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