It was widely publicized in the week leading up to the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) that trainer Dale Romans was unaware he was in line for a $50,000 bonus if Shackleford won the second leg of the Triple Crown.
That bonus, offered by MI Developments to the winning Preakness trainer as part of the new “Preakness 5.5,” was a welcome surprise for Romans after the son of Forestry pulled a 12-1 upset May 21 at Pimlico Race Course, as was the $500,000 Mike Lauffer and Bill Cubbedge received for the owners' share of the prize.
Now, the connections of Shackleford; the other two Triple Crown race winners, Animal Kingdom and Ruler On Ice; and a few other grade I winners have the option to take a shot at another hefty bonus if they decide to show up for the $750,000 West Virginia Derby (gr. II) Aug. 7 at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort.
As part of a new bonus the racetrack is offering, any 3-year-old that has won a grade I race this year is eligible to receive a $150,000 bonus if they win the West Virginia Derby. In addition, the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), Preakness, and Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winners would also receive a $50,000 bonus ($25,000 each for owner and trainer) just for starting in the race, making it a pontential $650,000 payday for those three.
On June 14 Romans said the West Virginia Derby would be an outside possibility for Shackleford, even though the $1 million Haskell Invitational (gr. I) at Monmouth Park is probably the first choice right now. Romans won the West Virginia Derby in 2006 with Bright One. Shackleford finished fifth in the Belmont June 11.
“It’s something to think about,” Romans said. “I don’t usually look at purse money, but we’ll talk about it. Because of how wide-open the 3-year-old championship is, we have to consider which races give us the best chance to win it.
"Can this race help us win the championship as much as the Haskell and Travers? I’m not sure. But there are a lot of moving parts in the decision, including what’s best for the horse. The good thing about the West Virginia Derby is that it would give us an extra week.”
Romans was referring to the date of the 1 1/8-mile West Virginia Derby, which is one week after the Haskell. The Travers (gr. I) is Aug. 27 at Saratoga.
Romans said Shackleford bounced out of the Belmont in good shape and was shipped to WinStar Farm in Kentucky to get a brief freshening. He will return to Romans’ Churchill Downs barn in a couple of weeks to prepare for his next race.
The connections of Animal Kingdom and Ruler On Ice already have said they are pointing their respective horses to the Haskell and the Travers.
Mountaineer director of racing Rose Mary Williams said the bonus was introduced this year to entice grade I winners for the West Virginia Derby.
“When Mine That Bird ran at Mountaineer (in 2009), it increased the handle and attendance, and people were excited to watch a Kentucky Derby winner run here," Williams said. "So we also added a $25,000 bonus to each the owner and trainer of Triple Crown race winners that run in the West Virginia Derby.
"This year we are marketing the Derby starting in July with instant winners through our tote machines, which will include Derby-themed merchandise and cash. Lee Greenwood will be on hand to sing the National Anthem, and will appear in concert the day after the Derby."
Other grade I winners this year that are eligible for the West Virginia Derby bonus are Dialed In (Florida Derby), Toby's Corner (Wood Memorial), Midnight Interlude (Santa Anita Derby), and Brilliant Speed (Toyota Blue Grass Stakes).