The connections of Ready Set were rewarded for their patience Aug. 2 when the colt earned his first career stakes victory in a big way—the $750,000 West Virginia Derby (gr. III) at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort.
Ready Set, owned by Roy and Gretchen Jackson’s Lael Stables, had banked $146,040 in his previous 10 starts. In the West Virginia Derby, the colt, an $800,000 purchase by the Jacksons at the 2006 Keeneland September yearling sale, earned $450,000.
Gretchen Jackson said she and her husband always were high on Ready Set, who raced in the Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I) last year in his third career start. They had to wait a while for him to begin to reach his potential, as did trainer Michael Matz.
“Michael always encouraged us to think like that,” Gretchen Jackson said. “It took a while, but he’s starting to put the pieces together. He’s such a natural mover.”
Ready Set, in his Mountaineer debut, settled early in the 1 1/8-mile Derby as a host of horses committed to the early pace in the 11-horse field. Jockey Julien Leparoux asked Ready Set to pick up the pace from between horses on the far turn and steered the colt toward the rail when a hole opened up.
Ready Set gradually took over near the top of the stretch, opened up by a half-length, and had enough to hold off Web Gem, who flew home after encountering some traffic on the far turn. Ready Set appeared to re-break near the wire and finished a head in front of Web Gem, who had three lengths on Real Appeal, who rallied from last to third.
Favored Cherokee Artist, who attempted to rate just off the early pace, took command on the far turn but didn’t run on and checked in fourth. Second choice Recapturetheglory broke through the gate before the race, dueled for the lead through quick fractions and finished ninth.
“I knew it was over when he broke through the gate,” said Louie Roussel III, co-owner and trainer of Recapturetheglory.
The fractions for the West Virginia Derby, run on a track rated fast, were :22.66 for the opening quarter-mile, :46.11 for the half-mile, 1:11.51 for six furlongs, and 1:38.49 for the mile. The final time was 1:52.03, well off the track record and stakes record of 1:46.29 set by Soto in 2003.
“I was expecting a lot of pace, which we got,” said Leparoux, who rode Ready Set for the first time. “The only spot I had to move was at the three-eighths pole, so I made him move earlier than I wanted. If he really ran as much as he could, he would have won by 10 lengths. Hopefully, he’ll improve a lot off of this race.”
Ready Set and Leparoux had to survive a claim of foul by Jorge Chavez, who rode Web Gem. Chavez said Ready Set moved over on the far turn and made Web Gem lose his action. “By the time we recovered, it was too late,” Chavez said. “I think I would have won easy."
Leparoux disagreed. “I didn’t see anything,” he said. “No one saw anything.”
Ready Set paid $11.20 to win. It was his fourth career victory; in his previous two starts, he fell just short in stakes at Delaware Park.
Matz said he recommended a break for Ready Set after a troubled trip in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) in February, and the Jacksons agreed. The rest was productive, Matz said.
“These are the results of him maturing,” Matz said. “He’s a big colt, and I think he’ll get even better as a 4-year-old. He should run all day.”
Kentucky-bred Ready Set is by Touch Gold out of the Alleged mare Party Cited. Matz said the colt could race next in the $1-million Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) at Philadelphia Park Casino & Racetrack Sept. 1.
There was one scratch in the West Virginia Derby. Foxwood Stable's Marble Cliff, whose registration is under investigation, was taken out of the race. The official reason was listed as a trainer's scratch.
Marble Cliff, an Ohio-registered gelding who has won two stakes in the Buckeye State, may have been foaled in Kentucky, though the Ohio State Racing Commission hasn't discussed any aspects of the ongoing investigation.