08/06/2011 5:28PM

Mountaineer: Prayer for Relief rallies to win West Virginia Derby

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Ethel Riser
Prayer for Relief wins the Grade 2 West Virginia Derby.

Bob Baffert can do little wrong these days. The Hall of Fame trainer watched from Saratoga as he sent out his second major winner in the 3-year-old ranks in less than a week when Prayer for Relief wore down front-running Rush Now on Saturday to capture the 42nd running of the Grade 2, $750,000 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort in Chester, W.Va.

Just six days before, Baffert won the $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park with Coil, who runs next in the Travers Stakes. Prayer for Relief now becomes a possibility for that Aug. 27 showdown at Saratoga by virtue of his third straight victory since returning from minor ankle surgery.

Ridden by Rafael Bejarano and saddled by assistant Jim Barnes, Prayer for Relief returned $4.60 as the favorite after finishing the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:50.68 over a fast track. The 3-year-old Jump Start colt is owned by the Zayat Stables of Ahmed Zayat.

WATCH REPLAY: 2011 West Virginia Derby

The triumph marked the second straight in the Mountaineer showcase for Baffert, who won last year with Concord Point.

Baffert said Prayer for Relief “has been a changed horse” since he had a tiny chip removed from an ankle following his final start as a 2-year-old. The Kentucky-bred colt earned $451,500 for his fourth and easily richest win from seven career starts.

“I’ll have to wait and see how he comes out of the Mountaineer race and see how he trains at Saratoga before we make any decisions on the Travers,” Baffert said.

Rush Now, the 9-2 third choice under Cornelio Velasquez, led from the start and appeared quite relaxed when setting fractions of 24.18 seconds, 48.13, and 1:12.45, with Prayer for Relief and Sherriff Cogburn giving closest chase. Passing the eighth pole, Rush Now looked like a winner as Prayer for Relief was put to a drive by Bejarano, to no apparent avail. But with about 70 yards to go, suddenly everything changed, with Prayer for Relief surging past for a half-length score.

Sherriff Cogburn was third, another 2 1/2 lengths back, when barely holding off a late rush by Infrattini in a three-horse photo for show. Awesome Bet was fifth, followed by Little Drama, Dreamy Kid, Skipping the Score, and Loranger Native. Fred High was an early scratch.

For excuses, Little Drama had the biggest one at 12-1 as he was unprepared for the start and played a futile game of catch-up thereafter.

The $2 exacta returned $27.40 and the $2 trifecta paid $227.20.