The $600,000 West Virginia Derby (gr. III) was the major mid-season test for Sir Shackleton, and he passed it with flying colors with a resounding victory over six other foes in the 1 1/8-mile event for 3-year-olds at Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort.
Owned and bred by Tracy Farmer, Kentucky-bred Sir Shackleton showed a new dimension when he rated early under Rafael Bejarano, was sixth at the half-mile call, then rallied up the inside to collar front-running Britt's Jules and pull away by three lengths at the wire. The early pace was moderate--:47.14 for the half -- but the pace picked up to 1:10.68 for six furlongs and 1:35.83 for the mile.
In his previous start, Sir Shackleton, trained by Nick Zito, finished third in a bang-up effort in the 1 1/16-mile Dwyer Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont Park. He traditionally shows good early foot, but Bejarano, who has been aboard for all four of his wins and won three stakes on the day at Mountaineer, tried new tactics. They worked.
"The horse always showed he had potential, but you don't want him to do too much too quick," assistant trainer Tim Poole said. "They'll tell you when they want to go to the next level, and he did that today."
The final time was 1:49.16 for Sir Shackleton, the slight 6-5 favorite. Pollard's Vision, the second choice also at 6-5, finished second, a half-length ahead of Britt's Jules. Avid Skier, Fantasticat, Mister Fotis, and Ecclesiastic rounded out the order of finish.
When asked where Sir Shackleton, by Miswaki
, might resurface, Farmer, who made the trip to West Virginia, said: "Everything is open. He's a good horse. But we haven't talked beyond this race."
The Aug. 28 Travers Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga isn't out of the question, though Sir Shackleton's connections took a wait-and-see approach on his next race.
Lincoln Collins, racing manager for Farmer, said Sir Shackelton had to prove if he was ready to compete at longer distances or cut back to a mile. The question was answered, he said.
"I think he came through test, and the way he (rated) made a big difference," Collins said. "I think we've seen a new dimension. The Travers would to be a consideration, but will discuss it with Nick."
Sir Shackleton has earned $505,427 in seven starts. He also won the Derby Trial (gr. III) at Churchill Downs this year.
In the $100,000 West Virginia Governor's Handicap, Illinois-bred Wiggins rallied from just off the pace and pulled away to win by four lengths over a fast-closing Ask The Lord. Owned by William Pacella, Joseph Rizza, and Ronald Schwed, Wiggins, by Cartwright, won for the ninth time in 17 career starts.
Trained by Tony Granitz and ridden by Rafael Bejarano, Wiggins, a 4-year-old gelding, was highly regarded as a 3-year-old when he won five of seven starts. He covered the 1 1/16 miles in his first Mountaineer start in 1:43:37.
In the $85,000 West Virginia Legislature Chairman's Cup Handicap, Elaine Bassford's Ameri Brilliance set a track record of :50.16 for 4½ furlongs. The previous record of :50.28 was set by Baby Shark in the same stakes last year on the Derby undercard.
A Maryland-bred by Ameri Valay, Ameri Brilliance grabbed the early lead from Danieltown, dropped back to second, and rallied late to nail Danieltown in deep stretch and draw away by 1½ lengths.
Ameri Brilliance, trained by Ben Feliciano Jr. and ridden by Eibar Coa, won for the 10th time in 28 career starts. Last summer, the 5-year-old gelding blistered four furlongs in :43.76 to win an allowance test at the Maryland State Fair at Timonium.