When Health Communication's latest book, Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover's Soul, hits bookstores July 17, it will be missing a chapter about its publisher, Peter Vegso. Apparently, the sixth running of the Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs won't make the deadline. Vegso's entry, Silver Tree, went wire to wire with Edgar Prado aboard, upsetting the 1-9 Senor Swinger, and giving trainer Bill Mott his second consecutive Virginia Derby win in absentia. Mott joins Jonathan Sheppard as the only trainer to win the Virginia Derby twice. The same connections--Vegso, Mott, and Prado --won the race last year with Silver Tree's full brother, Orchard Park. The dam of Orchard Park and Silver Tree is Blue Begum, who foaled four colts before she died. Vegso hopes to bring Silver Blue, the third colt out of Blue Begum, to the Virginia Derby next year. The fourth colt, sired by War Chant, could make the 2005 running.
1/4-mile turf race for 3-year-olds, Silver Tree broke from post position seven in the eight-horse field. Looking down the track, Prado had three furlongs in which to ease Silver Tree to the inside. By the time he made the first turn, he had a length lead and the rail that he never surrendered. A mile into the race Senor Swinger was seventh, six lengths from the front, and not taking to the Colonial Downs turf. Kicken Kris rallied for second, 1 1/2 lengths behind the winner. King's Drama closed for third and Senor Swinger finished fourth. The first thing Vegso did when he entered the winner's circle was call his wife, who was unable to attend. "He won it going away," Vegso said over the phone after Silver Tree covered the distance in 2:01.11. "He won it beautifully. He won it wire to wire. It was unbelievable. Do you believe this? It's incredible and a brother to do it. It's chicken soup for the horse lover's soul. That's exactly what it is." It was a disappointing debut at Colonial Downs for jockey Pat Day, who rode Senor Swinger. Day was listed to ride Keene Dancer in the inaugural Virginia Derby in 1998 but was unable to obtain a license under Virginia law at the time. In 1999, the General Assembly passed legislation giving the commission more discretion in licensing. "He wasn't getting over the ground good," Day said of Senor Swinger. "He didn't feel comfortable. I eased him out on the backside. He had plenty of racetrack. He never had any response. I was trying to get him to run and was having no success." "I was worried about his position because it was good to be up close today," said Bob Baffert, also making his first appearance at Colonial. For Prado, his Colonial Downs homecoming couldn't have been better. As the field was loading into the gate before the All Along Stakes (gr. IIIT), Prado's mount, Dress To Thrill, broke through the gate and ran over two furlongs down the straight. Prado was still in the gate, watching and wondering if his mount was going to be scratched from the 1 1/8-mile race. "She lunged forward and I was stuck in the door and she just kept going," Prado said. "She was ready to go and she heard a noise when a horse got loaded into gate. She just wanted out of there." A few minutes later, Dress To Thrill was reloaded and got a perfect start. Prado guided her to the lead early and won by a half-length over a hard-charging Lady Linda in 1:49.16. Prior to moving his tack to New York, Prado was a leading rider on the Maryland/Virginia circuit and the leading rider the first two years of racing at Colonial Downs. "You never forget where you come from having a lot a friends here that have supported me for years," Prado said. "At the beginning of my career, I started here and I'm very thankful." Virginia Derby Day set a single-day Thoroughbred wagering record at Colonial Downs of $2,380,185. The previous record was $2,105,650, bet on the inaugural Virginia Derby day in 1998. The Virginia Derby and All Along weren't the only trophy presentations for Prado. Gov. Mark Warner presented a trophy to Prado after he won the sixth race aboard Plain Clothes. Warner is the first governor to attend racing at Colonial Downs since Gov. George Allen cut the ribbon at Colonial's grand opening. "I think you're looking at a world-class facility that's getting more and more exposure," Warner said. "Never bet against Virginia." Or Edgar Prado. (Chart, Equibase)