07/29/2009 11:00PM

Big Drama and Coa have one edge over Bird


CHESTER, W.Va. - David Fawkes doesn't want to make it more complicated than it has to be. As the trainer of Big Drama, he will simply give Eibar Coa a leg up, then sit back and watch what happens Saturday in the West Virginia Derby.

"I'm going to leave Coa alone and let him ride his race," said Fawkes. "They've had a lot of luck together. If things fall as they do, we should be fine."

Big Drama appears to be easily the most dangerous threat to Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird in the 40th running of the Grade 2, $750,000 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Park. Conventional handicapping wisdom says that speed is at an advantage in small fields, and not many 3-year-olds in America today are as speedy as Big Drama. Moreover, under the allowance conditions of the race, Big Drama has a weight assignment of 111 pounds, 11 fewer than Mine That Bird.

Most of the 3-year-olds that perform well this weekend in the West Virginia Derby, Haskell Invitational, and Jim Dandy figure to move on to the 1 1/4-mile Shadwell Travers, but Big Drama owns such a high turn of speed that Fawkes said he will turn his focus to the seven-furlong King's Bishop Stakes after Saturday. The Travers and King's Bishop, both Grade 1 races, are set for Aug. 29 at Saratoga.

"The King's Bishop should suit him a lot better," said Fawkes.

Big Drama was scheduled to arrive here mid-afternoon Thursday by van from Monmouth Park, where the Montbrook colt recorded three straight bullet workouts in prepping for the West Virginia Derby. Fawkes, 49, has a summer base at Monmouth but spends most of the year in south Florida.

Plain white silks for Smith

If you're looking for jockey Mike Smith to be wearing the black-and-silver Double Eagle Ranch silks that became familiar to racing fans during Mine That Bird's runs in the Triple Crown, look again.

Smith, like all jockeys in all Mountaineer races, will be donning "house" silks that are color-coordinated and correspond to program number, according to Rosemary Williams, director of racing at Mountaineer. The jockey for No. 1 wears all red, No. 2 wears all white, No. 3 wears all blue, and so on, a longstanding Mountaineer system that purports to allow fans to more easily follow their horse in a race.

With Mine That Bird being No. 2, Smith will be wearing white.

Early birds flock to Mine That Bird

Perhaps a couple dozen people who might not have been on hand otherwise were trackside Thursday morning to watch Mine That Bird go through his routine training steps. Among a small cluster of interested observers were trainer Chad Bowersock, whose group included McKenzie Goydich, an 11-year-old girl who woke up much earlier than usual just to see a Kentucky Derby winner in person.

"It's not very often we get to see a horse like him," said Bowersock.

Special display honors Baird

It is difficult to disassociate Mountaineer with Dale Baird, the local icon who dominated racing here for decades until he was killed at age 72 in a traffic accident in Indiana on Dec. 23, 2007.

Mountaineer officials and horsemen still speak with reverence about Baird, the all-time winningest trainer in North American racing history with 9,445 wins. A memorial display of tributes to Baird and memorabilia is encased on the second-floor clubhouse.

Campo managed rare derby feat

Much has been made of the fact that Mine That Bird is the first Kentucky Derby winner to race at Mountaineer. But there have been some West Virginia Derby participants in prior years with strong Kentucky Derby ties, including Hall of Fame jockeys such as Bill Shoemaker, Angel Cordero Jr., Steve Cauthen, and Pat Day.

And in 1981, the same year he won the Kentucky Derby with Pleasant Colony, the late John Campo sent out Johnny Dance to win a division of the West Virginia Derby, the only time a trainer or jockey has won both races in the same year.

* Like so many stakes races across the country these days, the West Virginia Derby has Steve Asmussen's fingerprints on it. Asmussen, who on Saturday will send out the entry of Soul Warrior and Sunday Sunrise, has won two of the last four runnings, with Real Dandy (2005) and Zanjero (2007).

* With all six jockeys in the West Virginia Derby coming from elsewhere, this may be the first time that no local jockey has ridden in the race, according to Bill Mooney, who has served in a media-relations capacity for the West Virginia Derby since 1998 and has done meticulous research on the race. "It's a rarity, at the very least," said Mooney.

* Even though there are only five wagering interests in the West Virginia Derby, trifecta wagering still will be available on the race, according to track officials.

* This is the 40th West Virginia Derby, but it's not as if the race has been run annually since 1970. There have been six breaks in continuity since the first one was run in 1923.

* Peter