Zanjero carried a six-race losing streak into the $750,000 West Virginia Derby (gr. III) (VIDEO), having last been to the winners circle in an allowance at Belmont Park in November. But a pair of narrow losses in the past few months gave the son of Cherokee Run all the seasoning he needed to finally break through, as the 3-year-old colt outfought Bwana Bull in a heart-pounding finish to take the feature at Mountaineer Park Aug. 4.
The Steve Asmussen-trained Zanjero had lost by a head to both Dominican and Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner Street Sense in April during the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I), then came within a neck of winning the Northern Dancer Stakes (gr. III) last month. This time, with jockey Shaun Bridgmohan’s urging, the Kentucky-bred colt was not to be denied. Longshot Bwana Bull, who like Zanjero was well-beaten in the Kentucky Derby, fell a nose short in a photo finish.
Moyer’s Pond, ridden by Mark Guidry, finished six lengths back in third, just ahead of Sam P.
Zanjero, who has hit the board in nine of 11 career efforts, paid $8, $4.60, $2.80. The 9-10 exacta was worth $128.00, while the 9-10-3 trifecta netted $914.40. The winner covered the 1 1/8-mile in 1:53.04. It was the third victory of the day for the team of Bridgmohan and Asmussen, this one for Winchell Thoroughbreds.
Longshot sprinter Norjac set the pace through the early stages, covering the half-mile in a modest 48.41 seconds. At that point neither Zanjero nor Bwana Bull were in the top three, but as they neared the final turn both made bold moves. The two moved together through the length of the stretch, but Zanjero gained the edge and gamely held on at the wire.
Delightful Kiss, who was bet down as the 9-5 favorite, briefly joined the leaders around the final turn before tiring and finishing fifth.