Organized horse racing in West Virginia dates back at least 223 years, but no horse who has won the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) has ever competed in the Mountaineer State before. That status is going to change on Aug. 1, when Mine That Bird goes to the post in the $750,000 West Virginia Derby (gr. II) at Mountaineer Casino Racetrack & Resort.
“We’ll be setting a precedent, I guess,” said Bennie “Chip” Woolley Jr., who trains Mine That Bird for co-owners Mark Allen and Dr. Leonard Blach.
On July 20, Mine That Bird worked four furlongs in :48 1/5 at Churchill Downs. Woolley described the 3-year-old Birdstone gelding as “looking really good” and “really sharp,” and plans to van to Mountaineer with him July 24.
Woolley intends is to give Mine That Bird a final workout at Mountaineer July 27, and then complete his preparation for the West Virginia Derby with a series of morning gallops. George Smith, an exercise rider from Woolley’s home state of New Mexico, will be aboard for those chores.
Hall of Famer Mike Smith will ride Mine That Bird. Smith has had one prior West Virginia Derby mount, finishing sixth with Wanna Runner in 2006.
Nominations for this year’s 40th West Virginia Derby closed July 20. There were 37 nominees.
Entries will be drawn July 28. Other participants could include Big Drama, who has won five stakes, including the Delta Downs Jackpot (gr. III). Trained by David Fawkes for breeder-owner Harold L. Queen, Big Drama has won six of his nine career starts and has already surpassed the $1 million plateau in career earnings.
Also possible are Awesome Rhythm, who has won a trio of stakes at Woodbine this year, and Monty's Best, who has won a pair of allowance races at Woodbine. Owned by Jim and Susan Hill, Monty’s Best completed his 2-year-old campaign with a second-place effort in the grade III Iroquois Stakes at Churchill. He’s trained by Reade Baker, who won the Sovereign Award as Canada’s outstanding thoroughbred conditioner in 2005.
Trainer Steve Asmussen, a two-time West Virginia Derby winner with Real Dandy in 2005 and Zanjero in 2007, has nominated four horses to this year’s race. One of them is Kensei, a 3 1/4-length winner of the Dwyer Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont Park on July 4. Another is Soul Warrior, who finished second in the Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows on June 26.
Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito, who won the 2004 West Virginia Derby with Sir Shackleton, has nominated Miner's Escape for this year’s renewal. On May 2, Miner’s Escape was a 4 1/2-length winner of the 1 1/8-mile Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico.