Bright One, the talk of Churchill Downs after two impressive victories in maiden company and an overnight stakes, lived up to the hype Sunday afternoon when he toyed with nine foes in his graded-stakes debut and ran away with the $750,000 West Virginia Derby (gr. III) at Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort.
With Mark Guidry in the irons, Bright One took command from the start from post one in the 1 1/8-mile West Virginia Derby and set the pace while several paths off the rail. The Dance Brightly colt clicked off fractions of :23.60 for the quarter, :47.12 for the half, and 1:11.76 for six furlongs - never in front by more than 1 1/2 lengths.
Several foes--Wanna Runner, Ah Day, Circle the World, and Luxembourg--all had clear shots at Bright One, but the colt accelerated at the top of the lane, still well off the rail, and powered away under some urging by Guidry to win by 5 3/4 lengths in 1:50.08. Cielo Gold rode the rail from far back to rally for second, 3 1/4 lengths ahead of More Than Regal. Ah Day was fourth.
Bright One, who opened at even-money, took a steady stream of pari-mutuel action and was dismissed as the heavy favorite. He paid $4 to win. The colt drew great interest with a 9 1/2-length maiden win, and then a 7 1/4-length win in the Forestry Handicap. Both were at the one-turn mile distance; the Derby was his first start around two turns.
"I think he's one of the best I've had," said trainer Dale Romans, who mentioned the Aug. 26 Travers Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga as a possibility for Bright One. "You have to think about the Travers when you have a top 3-year-old at this time of year."
Said Hal Wiggins, trainer of Cielo Gold, who overcame a poor start to beat all but Bright One: "I tell you what, Dale has got himself a nice horse. I watched him race at Churchill Downs, and he was just awesome. I wish Bright One had run in the Haskell."
Bright One was bred by Mike Bruder and is co-owned by his wife, Carolyn Sue, and Delmar Daubs. The Bruders turned down multiple offers for the colt and sold an interest to longtime friend Daubs after Bright One broke his maiden June 17 at Churchill.
"I'm tickled to death," Daubs said of his investment. "I've been in the business quite a while and never had anything like him."
Mike Bruder, a member of the board of directors of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said if everything falls into place and Bright One continues on his current course, the Breeders' Cup Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I) at Churchill is a possibility this year.
Guidry, who was celebrating his 47th birthday, won his second consecutive West Virginia Derby. Last year, Guidry won aboard Bob and Cathy Zollars' Real Dandy, who finished fourth Sunday in the $125,000 West Virginia Governor's Stakes on the Derby undercard.
"He ran a really impressive race, especially since this racetrack hasn't been suited for speed horses," Guidry said of Bright One. "He was looking around at the eighth pole and still drew off. Hopefully, he'll keep putting it together and get something else down the line."
Bright One, out of the Lively One mare Twinkle, now has three wins and a second in four starts. Before the Derby, his earnings stood at $85,554; after the Mountaineer fixture, his bankroll jumped to $535,554.