08/12/2005 12:00AM

Chance for recognition, big payday

Benoit & Associates
Devilment, winning the Round Table, makes his graded debut in Sunday's West Virginia Derby.

Dover Dere appears to be sitting on a breakout race, and Devilment needs a graded stakes to showcase his emerging talent. The vehicle that could turn the 3-year-old spotlight in their direction the second half of the year is the Grade 3, $750,000 at Mountaineer Race Track on Sunday.

There are 10 others set to start in the 1 1/8-mile race, and tabbing the winner will take some work. The field is well matched, with stakes winners Ablo, Southern Africa, Shamoan, Magna Graduate, and Pinpoint all formidable roadblocks. Also figuring tough are Golden Man, who placed in graded stakes on consecutive days in July, Real Dandy, and Diamond Isle.

Adding to the handicapping task is the fact the entrants have come from so many different venues. The field includes horses shipping in from California, New York, Illinois, and Canada for what is the richest race on an all-stakes card worth $1.5 million. The purse distribution is a one-day record in West Virginia.

Dover Dere invades from Hollywood Park, where he has run well against quality foes. Last out, he was second to Grade 1 Pacific Classic candidate Surf Cat in the Grade 2 Swaps on July 4 and before that was third to Indian Ocean and Surf Cat in the Grade 3 Affirmed on June 18.

In both races, Dover Dere set the pace, a departure from his old stalking style. He earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 100 in the Affirmed and a 97 in the Swaps. Patrick Valenzuela was aboard both times, and by putting Dover Dere in contention early, Valenzuela seemed to get the horse to be more focused, said trainer Doug O'Neill, who will again have Valenzuela ride.

"Since we've put Patrick on him, he's definitely gotten a lot more out of the horse early in the race, and it sure seems like [Dover Dere] has given us more of an effort late in the race because of it," he said. "Originally, we kind of had him pegged as a horse that kind of wanted to make one run. I think by the addition of Patrick and putting him in the race early, we've kind of accidentally found out he might be better suited being closer to the pace. It's something we kind of fell into, and hopefully that kind of trip will work for us on Sunday."

Devilment, who is based at Arlington, has stepped up his game since moving to two turns and adding blinkers. He won an allowance at 1 1/8 miles May 22, was second in an overnight stakes June 26, then last out won the $100,000 Round Table, also at nine furlongs, July 16.

"His last race, it was pretty impressive," said Michael Stidham, who trains Devilment. "He got stopped down the middle of the backside in traffic. He had to wait, and when he did make his move, it was one of those kind of electrifying moves."

Devilment won by two lengths in a sharp 1:47.60 and earned a Beyer of 100, the highest last-race number in the West Virginia Derby. He makes his graded debut Sunday and should be sitting behind the speed under Carlos Marquez Jr.

"When he got in that bit of trouble and had to wait a little bit longer, we found that that seems to be better for his kick, to where he's got a big move for us," said Stidham. "So we're not going to be in any hurry, but certainly we don't want to get shuffled back and be out of the race either. We hope not to be too far back."

Ablo vanned out of Woodbine on Friday, fresh from his front-running win in the $500,000 Prince of Wales at Fort Erie on July 17. He was a neck winner in a restricted field that included Queen's Plate winner Wild Desert.

"He's just a genuine, hard-trying little horse," said trainer Roger Attfield. "He runs his heart out every time."

First post is 2 p.m. Eastern, with the West Virginia Derby, the eighth race, scheduled for 5:39 p.m. It will be televised live on ESPN.