07/28/2009 11:00PM

Classic styles to be displayed in West Virginia Derby


CHESTER, W.Va. - True to the historic nature of having a classic winner in the field, the West Virginia Derby will showcase a classic matchup of speed vs. closer.

Big Drama, the millionaire speedster shipping in from Monmouth Park, will be trying to stay clear of the closing punch of Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird when the Grade 2, $750,000 West Virginia is run for the 40th time Saturday at Mountaineer Park.

Chip Woolley, the trainer of Mine That Bird, readily acknowledged this week during a national teleconference call that he is concerned about Big Drama being the controlling speed in a field of just six 3-year-olds entered in the 1 1/8-mile race.

"It's a big concern anytime you get in a situation like that," said Woolley.

Still, he added, Mine That Bird is primed for a big effort.

"We've done everything we can to have him 100 percent and dead-ready," he said. "I think he's really on his game and doing as good as he can be."

Mine That Bird, owned by Mark Allen and Leonard Blach, not only will be the first Kentucky Derby winner to race at Mountaineer, but the first winner of a Triple Crown event to race anywhere in the state of West Virginia.

Mike Smith will be aboard Mine That Bird when the gelding breaks from post 2 in making his first start since running third as the favorite in the June 6 Belmont Stakes. Mine That Bird has been pegged as the 3-5 favorite on the morning line by Mountaineer's racing secretary and handicapper, Joe Narcavish.

Big Drama, with Eibar Coa aboard from post 5, is the 8-5 second choice among just five wagering interests. The rest of the lineup is Monty's Best (post 6, Eurico Da Silva, 10-1), Awesome Rhythm (post 3, James McAleney, 12-1), and the Steve Asmussen entry of Soul Warrior (post 1, Miguel Mena) and Sunday Sunrise (post 4, Corey Lanerie), coupled at 15-1.

Big Drama and Mine That Bird broke alongside each other from posts 1 and 2, respectively, in their lone prior meeting, the May 16 Preakness at Pimlico. Both experienced some trouble: Big Drama, who wound up fifth, was very fractious in the gate, then bobbled at the break, while Mine That Bird had to circle the entire field when he was closing to be second behind Rachel Alexandra.

Night racing is the norm at Mountaineer, but first post Saturday is 2 p.m. Eastern. Fox Sports Net will provide live coverage of the West Virginia Derby from 5-6, with post time set for 5:43. Chris Lincoln, Caton Bredar, and Kurt Hoover will host the telecast.

Although the weather was rainy and gloomy here Wednesday, conditions were expected to improve by race day, with partly cloudy skies and a high temperature of 83 being forecast.

Strongest card of the meet

As usual, the West Virginia Derby is the centerpiece of what is always the biggest day of the year at Mountaineer. In fact, all nine races on the Saturday card are stakes, with a minimum purse of $85,000.

The richest of those eight supporting races is the $125,000 West Virginia Governor's Stakes, which also will be included on the Fox telecast. Eight older horses are in the lineup, with Chicago shipper Shadowbdancing the one to catch under Randy Meier. Alphabet Magic, Let It Rock, and Dubious Miss also are part of a well-matched cast in the 1 1/16-mile race.

Rounding out an outstanding program are the West Virginia Senate President's Stakes and Harvey Arneault Memorial, both with $110,000 purses, and five races worth $85,000 each: the Mountaineer Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies, the West Virginia Legislature Chairman's Cup, the West Virginia Secretary of State, and the West Virginia House of Delegates Speaker's Cup.