08/11/2005 12:00AM

Dover Dere part of full West Virginia Derby field


While a number of rich 3-year-old stakes have struggled to attract horses this year, the West Virginia Derby lured an incredible 20 entrants Thursday. The rules of the race limit the field to 12 starters, plus four also-eligibles, and four horses were excluded when post positions were drawn.

The Grade 3, $750,000 will be run for the 36th time Sunday at Mountaineer Race Track and Gaming Resort in Chester, W.Va.

Dover Dere was made the 3-1 morning-line favorite by racing secretary Joe Narcavish, and will break from post 3. Pat Valenzuela has the mount for trainer Doug O'Neill.

Dover Dere, a front-runner, comes into the 1 1/8-mile West Virginia Derby on the heels of a second-place finish to Surf Cat in the Grade 2 Swaps at Hollywood Park. The inside draw on Thursday pleased O'Neill.

"I look at it as a positive," he said. "The shortest way around, obviously, is the closer to the rail you are."

The complete West Virginia Derby field from the rail with riders is Southern Africa, Jon Court; Ablo, Gerry Olguin; Dover Dere; Bernie Blue, Ricardo Feliciano; Golden Man, Chuck Lopez; Devilment, Carlos Marquez Jr.; Real Dandy, Mark Guidry; Magna Graduate, Gary Stevens; Pinpoint, Larry Melancon; Shamoan, Jose Valdivia Jr.; Anthony J., Jose Velez Jr.; and Diamond Isle, Edgar Prado.

The also-eligibles are Smokescreen, Indy Storm, It's Time to Smile, and Apache Point.

Pinpoint, who will add blinkers, and Indy Storm will form a Nick Zito-trained entry if Indy Storm draws into the race. Zito won last year's West Virginia Derby with Sir Shackleton.

Golden Man and Diamond Isle will race as an entry for trainer Richard Dutrow Jr.

The West Virginia Derby is the showcase event on a nine-race card that comprises only stakes. Total purses for the program are $1.5 million, making it the richest in the history of West Virginia racing. Mountaineer's purse for the West Virginia Derby has grown by leaps and bounds. The track, which has 3,500 slot machines, ran the race with a purse of $300,000 in 2000; $500,000 in 2001; and $600,000 in 2002, when it was run for the first time as a Grade 3. The purse remained $600,000 through 2004, then was bumped up to $750,000 for 2005.

The forecast for Sunday is a high of 82 degrees, with scattered thundershowers possible. Post for the West Virginia Derby is 5:39 p.m., and the race will be televised live on ESPN. There is a special post of 2 p.m. for the first race Sunday.