02/27/2014 11:47AM

Mountaineer: Parker’s return delayed as new season begins

Belinda Madrid/Coady Photography
Musicinthehouse will start in Saturday's eighth-race feature at Mountaineer, a $37,100 no-conditions allowance at five furlongs.

Deshawn Parker is giving his competition for leading rider at Mountaineer Racetrack a couple of weeks’ head start.

Parker, 43, who has recorded all but 248 of his 4,479 career victories at Mountaineer, where he is the all-time leading jockey, will be conspicuous by his absence when the track in the western panhandle of West Virginia launches its 64th season Saturday night. He has spent the past couple of months riding at Sam Houston Race Park, where he currently ranks second in the standings.

Parker’s agent, Billy Johnson, said the jockey is likely to return to Mountaineer in mid-March following the end of Sam Houston’s meet on March 11. It is also possible, however, that Parker will remain in Texas to ride for high-profile trainer Steve Asmussen at Lone Star Park.

That two-week absence may be enough for Christian Pilares to supplant Parker as Mountaineer’s top rider. A year ago, Parker collected 194 winners during the 210-day meet, 13 ahead of Pilares. Of Parker’s total, 15 wins came during the first two weeks of the 2013 meet.

Coincidentally, Pilares, 29, is also represented by Johsnon If Parker’s not at Mountaineer, Johnson may be able to steer many good mounts toward his other client, Pilares.

“It makes all the difference to have a great agent, one who knows his way,” Pilares said.

Pilares is named on seven mounts on opening night, including both parts of a coupled entry for trainer Joe Woodard in the eighth-race feature, a $37,100 no-conditions allowance at five furlongs. The stronger part of the entry is Tend, a 9-year-old who has been no worse than second in 6 of 7 previous starts locally.

The field also includes Jasizzle, who won the opening-night feature a year ago and was second by a neck in the Grade 3 Aristides at Churchill Downs last June, and Musicinthehouse, who upset the Sophomore Sprint Stakes at 9-1 in his final start as a 3-year-old in November.

In a notable change announced last fall, Mountaineer will add Wednesdays in place of Fridays on its five-day race-week. The move is intended to help increase handle.

The 13-race stakes package from 2013 returns intact. Nine of the stakes are packaged into a blockbuster program Aug. 2, the lone afternoon card of the season (2 p.m. Eastern first post). Led by the Grade 2, $750,000 West Virginia Derby at 1 1/8 miles, the Saturday spectacular also will include the $200,000 West Virginia Governor’s Stakes for 3-year-olds and up going 1 1/16 miles and seven undercard stakes worth $100,000 apiece.

Overnight purse structures will closely resemble 2013, when maiden special weight horses competed for a $19,400 purse and $5,000 claimers ran for as much as $9,000.

“We anticipate our overnight purse distribution to average the same as last year, approximately $115,000 per card,” said Rose Mary Williams, Mountaineer’s director of racing.

Purses for the opening-night nine-race card total $132,400. Following early scratches, there are 87 horses entered, an average of 9.7 per race.