Turf racing has returned to Mountaineer Casino Racetrack & Resort, which reopened its seven-furlong course on Memorial Day.
The track is expecting plenty of action over the turf course. An average of 9.6 horses per field contested the first seven turf races that have been run.
The ten-race card at Mountaineer June 2 includes a trio of grass events, and there will be four on June 3. From eight to 10 horses have been entered in each of those races.
While West Virginia’s horse racing heritage dates back well over two centuries, Mountaineer is the state’s only track to have offered turf events. “Wheeling Downs, Shenandoah Downs, Charles Town, the old Tri-State Fair Grounds -- there’s never been a grass race at any of them,” notes Joe Narcavish, Mountaineer’s racing secretary.
“Thistledown, near Cleveland, used to have a turf course, but they did away with it decades ago,” Narcavish said. “Beulah Park, near Columbus, also used to have one, but it’s long gone. That leaves Mountaineer in a pretty unique position as to what it can offer horsemen within this region.”
It increases the variety of wagering opportunities as well. “Turf racing is a real pick-up for our bettors,” said Mark Patterson, assistant racing secretary at Mountaineer and co-host of the track’s in-house handicapping show. “Our full racing season doesn’t actually kick in until we run on the grass.
“Horses who wouldn’t normally come to Mountaineer ship in because of the turf,” Patterson said. “And you don’t see nearly as many prohibitive 1-2 and 3-5 favorites on the grass as you do on the dirt. Mutuel returns on the turf tend to be much more generous. And grass racing is a great spectacle. Fans look for it and love it.”
Mountaineer turf races will be run this year at ten distances, ranging from 4 ½ furlongs to 2 ¼ miles. Racing on the grass will be offered through the Labor Day weekend.
Offerings will include a quartet of black-type events: the Independence Day and Firecracker stakes, both at one mile for $75,000 purses on July 3; and the West Virginia Senate President’s Cup and House of Delegates Speaker’s Cup, both at one mile and seventy yards for $100,000 purses on the Aug. 4 West Virginia Derby undercard.
Turf racing at Mountaineer dates back to the track’s eighth year of existence, when it was Waterford Park. On June 19, 1958, 5-year-old mare Hero Hour won the very first grass race, clocking a final time of 1:25 1/5 for seven furlongs under apprentice jockey Robert Green.
Prior to MTR Gaming Group’s purchase of Mountaineer, grass events were put on hiatus for more than a decade. Turf racing was resumed in the early 1990s, and has been a staple of the mid-season condition books ever since.