Exhi enters the West Virginia Derby after winning four consecutive stakes.

Exhi enters the West Virginia Derby after winning four consecutive stakes.

Michael Burns

Improving Colts Headline West Virginia Derby

Concord Point and Exhi may vie for favoritism in the West Virginia Derby.

Several winners of graded stakes are among nine 3-year-olds entered in the $750,000 West Virginia Derby (gr. II) at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort Aug. 7.

The 1 1/8-mile Derby will be the eighth race on a nine-race all-stakes program worth about $1.4 million in purses. The Derby will be broadcast live during a one-hour FOX Sports Net program from 5-6 p.m. EDT.

One of the following colts figures to be favored: Kaleem Shah’s Concord Point, blowout winner of the Iowa Derby (gr. III) in track-record time for 1 1/16 miles at Prairie Meadows Racetrack & Casino June 26, and Wertheimer and Frere’s Exhi , winner of four consecutive stakes, all on synthetic surfaces.

Concord Point, a Kentucky-bred by Tapit  out of the Boston Harbor mare Havre de Grace, looms a second-season horse. After starting his career with two wins in four starts sprinting on synthetic surfaces, the Bob Baffert trainee never looked better going long on dirt.

Martin Garcia, who has ridden Concord Point in all five of his starts, is named to ride at 118 pounds.

“The post we drew (number seven) is a good one,” said Baffert’s assistant, Jim Barnes, who will handle saddling chores at Mountaineer for Concord Point, the 8-5 morning-line favorite. “Our horse has been doing really well;  he worked a six-furlong bullet (in 1:13) at Del Mar on July 31.”

Exhi, the co-highweight at 120 pounds, began his four-stakes roll March 27 in the Rushaway Stakes at 1 1/16 miles at Turfway Park, followed by the Coolmore Lexington Stakes (gr. II) at 1 1/16 miles at Keeneland April 17. From there, Exhi shipped to Woodbine, where he won the 1 1/16-mile Marine Stakes May 29 and the 1 1/8-mile Victoria Park Stakes June 27.

All four stakes were on Polytrack. In 10 races thus far, Exhi has raced three times on the dirt with two seconds and a third, and three times on the turf, with a maiden win and a pair of sixth-place finishes.

“There weren’t too many Polytrack options for us right now,” trainer Todd Pletcher said Aug. 3. “But this horse has always trained extremely well on dirt. He breezed along with Quality Road  and held up very well. We just hope he likes the dirt at Mountaineer.”

Quality Road, arguably the top older male horse in training, looms a prohibitive favorite for the Aug. 7 Whitney Handicap (gr. I) at Saratoga. On July 26 on the dirt at Saratoga, Exhi (a Kentucky-bred by Maria's Mon out of the Polish Numbers mare Soldera) breezed five furlongs in :58 4/5, the quickest of 78 works at the distance.

Robby Albarado, aboard Exhi for his last three starts, is named to ride in the Derby. Exhi is listed at 7-2 in the morning line.

Also listed at 120 pounds is Olympia Star Inc.’s Skipshot , who defeated heavily favored Sidney's Candy in the grade II Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park July 17. Kentucky-bred Skipshot, by Skip Away out of the Sunny’s Halo mare Heavenly Note, has only won on synthetic surfaces, but his two starts on dirt came in sprints during his 2-year-old campaign.

Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer has named Joel Rosario to ride Skipshot, a 4-1 chance in the morning line.

George and Lori Hall’s Nacho Friend, trained by Kelly Breen, in his last start July 10 finished a good second behind Trappe Shot in the Lone Branch Stakes at Monmouth Park. Trappe Shot returned to finish a very strong second in the Haskell Invitational (gr. I) at Monmouth Aug. 1.

Joe Bravo, a regular at Monmouth, is named to ride Nacho Friend (a Kentucky-bred by Friends Lake out of the Kennedy Road mare You’renotlistening) at 112 pounds. The colt is 8-1 in the morning line.

The fast-improving Gunfighter (Iron Deputy out of the Mazel Trick mare Sweetgeorgiabrown), sharp in New Jersey-bred company his last two starts at Monmouth for M and M Thoroughbred Partners and trainer Anthony Dutrow, appears intriguing in his first start in stakes company. He's 10-1 in the early line.

The advance weather forecast for Aug. 7 calls for sunshine and temperatures in the low 80s in West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle.

$750,000 West Virginia Derby (Race 8, 5:45 p.m.), 3YO, 1 1/8 miles
P.P., Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1 Nacho Friend (KY),   J Bravo, 112, K J Breen
2 Thiskyhasnolimit (KY),   S Bridgmohan, 112, S M Asmussen
3 Skipshot (KY),   J Rosario, 120, J Hollendorfer
4 Not Abroad (MD),   B J Hernandez Jr., 112, M P Petro
5 Exhi (KY),   R Albarado, 120, T A Pletcher
6 Gunfighter (PA),   F Pennington, 114, A W Dutrow
7 Concord Point (KY),   M Garcia, 118, B Baffert
8 Shookstown Road (MD),  G Whitacre, 112, V J Allinson