07/13/2013 8:05PM

Colonial: Road warrior War Dancer takes Virginia Derby

War Dancer, with Alan Garcia, comes between Jack Milton (left) and Charming Kitten to narrowly prevail in the Grade 2 Virginia Derby.

War Dancer doesn’t seem to mind traveling. Since early March, he has raced at five different tracks in Florida, Kentucky, Indiana, and finally Virginia, and has run well every time.

Saturday night at Colonial Downs, War Dancer ($16.80) displayed grit and determination under regular rider Alan Garcia to prevail in a three-horse photo in the Grade 2, $500,000 Virginia Derby.

In a difficult spot between Charming Kitten with Joel Rosario aboard on the rail and Jack Milton, ridden by John Velazquez, to his outside, War Dancer got the job done by a head. Racing beyond 1 1/8 miles for the first time, War Dancer completed 1 1/4 miles on a turf course rated good in 2:03.57. Charming Kitten won a head bob with Jack Milton for second.

“The horse did everything he needed to do to win,” said Garcia, who won two stakes on the closing-night card.

“Alan did a great job,” said trainer Ken McPeek, who teamed up with jockey Ben Creed to win the $50,000 Kitten’s Joy two races earlier on the program. “We always felt this was a real nice horse.”

In two previous stakes tries, War Dancer had to settle for small slices of the purse, finishing third, 2 1/4 lengths behind winner Noble Tune in the Grade 2 American Turf at Churchill Downs and second, beaten two lengths by Free World, in the $207,000 Centaur at Indiana Downs a month ago.

The Wesley Ward-trained Redwood Kitten, winner of the James Murphy at Pimlico in May, set a pressured pace over rain-softened ground of 48.97 seconds for a half-mile and 1:13.82 for six furlongs. Four horses had a shot at winning at the eighth pole with Redwood Kitten still clinging to a half-length advantage. He faded in deep stretch, however, leaving three horses across the track before War Dancer emerged the victor.

Rydilluc, who came into the race 4 for 4 on turf, including the Grade 3 Palm Beach and last month's $460,000 Penn Mile,  finished in a dead heat for eighth at 5-2 after racing close up in second for the first mile.

A son of War Front owned by Magdalena Racing, War Dancer is now 3 for 7 lifetime. McPeek said he would like to target this fall’s Breeders’ Cup as a long-term goal.

“There are a lot of great options,” McPeek said when asked what might be next for War Dancer. “I’d like to try and make the Breeders’ Cup in some fashion. You never know how 3-year-olds are going to be able to compete with older horses at that time of year.”