08/05/2010 2:55PM

Concord Point looks to avoid duel in West Virginia Derby

Jack Coady/Coady Photography
Concord Point comes into the West Virginia Derby off a 8 1/2-length Iowa Derby win.

Six days after being at Monmouth Park to send out Lookin At Lucky to win the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational, trainer Bob Baffert will be staying home at Del Mar when his stable goes after another rich stakes for 3-year-olds back East.

Baffert will have Concord Point as the 8-5 morning-line favorite for the Grade 2, $750,000 West Virginia Derby, the annual showcase event at Mountaineer Racetrack in Chester, W.Va. Nine 3-year-olds are entered in the 1 1/8-mile race, with Exhi, Skipshot, and Thiskyhasnolimit being the top challengers to Concord Point.

“I’ll be sitting on my Grade 1 couch rooting him home,” Baffert said jokingly this week from California.

Concord Point was sensational in his last race, winning the June 26 Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows by 8 1/2 lengths. Baffert has eliminated Lookin At Lucky from consideration for the Aug. 28 Travers at Saratoga and said Concord Point “might have an outside shot” at being his replacement.

“He’s a good colt,” Baffert said. “I guess I’ve thought about running him in the Travers. But first we’ve got to see how he does there in West Virginia, and three weeks is probably a little quick coming back. Let’s see what happens Saturday first.”

Concord Point, with Martin Garcia to ride, will start from post 7. The gray Tapit colt arrived early in the week after several weeks of training at Del Mar.

“He’s been training well,” Baffert said. “He’s a speed horse, and there’s a lot of speed in the race, so I hope he doesn’t get hooked up. He’s pretty one dimensional, not a stalker. But he looks great and he shipped well, which is the main thing.”

Exhi, trained by Todd Pletcher, will be risking a four-race win streak – all in stakes – when he switches off synthetic surfaces to run on the Mountaineer dirt.

Skipshot also has done his best work on synthetics, having won the Grade 2 Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park in his last start for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.

Conversely, Thiskyhasnolimit, trained by Steve Asmussen, has raced exclusively on dirt. The Sky Mesa colt is a two-time stakes winner who most recently was second to Concord Point in the Iowa Derby.

Five others round out the cast, with Nacho Friend, Not Abroad, and Gunfighter having the best chances to prevail at longer prices. Shookstown Road and Toh’s Greay Cat are rank outsiders.

The West Virginia Derby, the eighth of nine Saturday races, anchors a terrific all-stakes program offering $1.52 million in purses. It will be televised live on a one-hour telecast on Fox Sports Net. The show begins at 5 p.m. Eastern and also will include the $125,000 Governor’s Stakes for older horses. First post is 2 p.m., with the West Virginia Derby going at 5:45. Caton Bredar, Kurt Hoover, and Jill Byrne are the Fox broadcast team.

This is the 41st running of the West Virginia Derby. Last year marked the only time the winner of a Triple Crown event has raced in the state as Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird finished third behind the 23-1 winner, Soul Warrior, and Big Drama.

Soul Warrior gave Asmussen his third win in the race, following Real Dandy (2005) and Zanjero (2007).

The weather forecast for Saturday calls for sunny skies and a high of about 80. A large ontrack crowd is expected.