08/04/2011 5:32PM

Mountaineer: Prayer for Relief tops West Virginia Derby

Jack Coady/Coady Photography
Prayer for Relief wins the Grade 3 Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows.

The floor was open. Stay Thirsty responded with a sensational win in the Jim Dandy, while Coil and Shackleford both stepped up big time with their one-two finish in the Haskell Invitational.

That was last weekend. And this is this weekend, when the 3-year-old division could welcome another prime-timer when the Grade 2, $750,000 West Virginia Derby is run Saturday at Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort in Chester, W.Va.

WEST VIRGINIA DERBY DAY: Video Analysis, news, PPs and LIVE streaming video of the entire card.

Bob Baffert, the Hall of Fame trainer who sent out Coil to win the Haskell and who won the West Virginia Derby last year with Concord Point, has the morning-line favorite for the 1 1/8-mile West Virginia Derby in Prayer for Relief. Rafael Bejarano, in from Del Mar, will be aboard Prayer for Relief when breaking from post 1 in a field of 10.

“He’s really become a different horse since we brought him back after he had a little ankle surgery,” Baffert said. “We’ll take him straight to Saratoga after this. I’d love to see him jump again and maybe join the big boys. I don’t know about the Travers, but I never say never.”

Prayer for Relief, a Jump Start colt owned by Zayat Stables, has won both starts since returning from the layoff. He won an allowance race in May at Hollywood Park before rallying from just off the pace under Bejarano to win the June 25 Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows. He has had five workouts in Southern California since then.

Steve Asmussen also is hoping the improving Awesome Bet can make a leap into the upper crust by winning a second straight stakes. The son of Awesome Again closed with a flourish to capture the July 9 Barbaro Stakes at Delaware Park in his last start.

“He’s coming off a really nice win and has continued to train well for us,” said Asmussen, who has won three of the last six runnings of the West Virginia Derby with Real Dandy (2005), Zanjero (2007), and Soul Warrior (2009).

Alan Garcia has the mount on Awesome Bet, who breaks from post  4.

Besides Bejarano and Garcia, other top jockeys named to ride Saturday at Mountaineer include Calvin Borel, Joe Talamo, Cornelio Velasquez, Jimmy Graham, Stewart Elliott, Mario Pino, and Corey Lanerie.

Predictably, race strategy among some of those top riders in the Derby could prove pivotal as many in the field are stalker types – and there appears to be little speed perhaps other than Rush Now, a Tiznow colt who faded to fourth as a big favorite in the Barbaro. Prayer for Relief, Little Drama, Dreamy Kid, and Sherriff Cogburn have shown a preference for waiting in behind the leaders, while other threats such as Infrattini and Awesome Bet have developed kicks from the back.

Dreamy Kid (post 8), based in California with Hall of Fame trainer Neil Drysdale, was up to post a 19-1 upset of Coil last month in the Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park, and Talamo believes the addition of blinkers was a major reason for the sudden upturn in form.

“The colt really focused,” Talamo said. “I really do think he turned a corner in that last race.”

Another colt on the upswing is Infrattini, who gets Borel from post  2. Infrattini charged late to finish second in his last start, the June 18 Matt Winn at his home track, Churchill Downs.

“We’ve brought him along nice and steady, and he’s been responding,” trainer Paul McGee said.

Others on the fringes include Little Drama (post 3), whose older brother, eventual sprint champion Big Drama, ran second in this race 2009, and Rush Now (post 5), whose early speed and field-high 97 Beyer Speed Figure from a two-back win at Monmouth Park make him a legitimate danger.

Others in the lineup are Skipping the Score, Loranger Native, and Fred High.

Mountaineer normally runs evenings, even on Saturdays, but traditionally the West Virginia Derby is a daytime affair. First post is 2 p.m. Eastern.

There is no network coverage of the race. TVG is a contractual broadcaster of Mountaineer racing, but track officials said this week that they were unaware whether TVG would be providing a live feed of the West Virginia Derby. Post time is 5:35 p.m.

The West Virginia Derby is the eighth of nine races on an outstanding all-stakes program. The top secondary feature is the $125,000 West Virginia Governor’s Stakes (race 7), while the other seven stakes are each worth $85,000.


WEST VIRGINIA DERBY DAY: Video Analysis, news, PPs and LIVE streaming video of the entire card.