Updated on 09/15/2011 12:47PM

Off the pace is strategy for Thunder Blitz


The Blitz is on. But it will be more like a delayed Blitz in Saturday's West Virginia Derby.

Thunder Blitz will not be going all out early. After having him run close to the pace in last month's Long Branch Stakes at Monmouth, trainer Joe Orseno and jockey Jorge Chavez have decided to let the colt revert to his preferred off-the-pace tactics.

Although Thunder Blitz ran well to be third in the Long Branch, he lacked his usual punch and was no match for Burning Roma and This Fleet Is Due. He raced within a length of the lead early, pulled on near even terms in the stretch, then flattened out.

"I thought we ran the best horse," said Orseno. "After the race I thought that, too. We got intimidated by a speed-favoring racetrack [at Monmouth]."

Thunder Blitz is expected to fall well off the pace Saturday. That style worked well for him previously, particularly at 1 1/8 miles - the distance of the West Virginia Derby. The colt is perfect in two starts at the distance, each time rallying from the rear half of the pack.

Another closing effort resulted in his best race: a fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. Finishing behind him that day were such notable 3-year-olds as Point Given, A P Valentine, Express Tour, Millennium Wind, and Dollar Bill.

If Thunder Blitz moves forward with the change in style, as Orseno expects, he will be difficult to defeat. Even if he merely reproduces his Long Branch effort, he'll be a major force.

Burning Roma and This Fleet Is Due ran in the $1.5 million Haskell off their one-two finishes in the Long Branch, and finished third and fourth, respectively in the Haskell. Neither was beaten more than a 1 1/2 lengths by Point Given.

Outofthebox's loss doesn't look so bad

Despite Outofthebox's third-place finish July 5 in his return at Churchill Downs, trainer Bernie Flint was not disappointed. He felt the colt simply caught a freakishly good cast of allowance horses.

"I had him fit," he said. "I just didn't know I'd know they'd go out there and nearly equal the track record."

The winner, Fajardo, covered 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.69. The track record at Churchill Downs of 1:41.60 was set by Yes Sir in 1970, when races were timed in fifths of a second.

The subsequent efforts of the horses exiting that race have validated the race. Fajardo, Twilight Road, and Miner's Prize - the first-, fourth-, and fifth-place finishers - returned to win. Fajardo and Twilight Road earned triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures in their subsequent allowance victories.

"[Outofthebox] is sound, going good," said Flint. "I'm expecting a big race [in Saturday's Derby]."

Claimers get the evening off

In contrast to a typical Mountaineer card - which is filled with four or five races for low-level claimers, there is not a single claiming race on the Saturday evening program. Three allowances and five other stakes support the West Virginia Derby.

All but one of the races drew fields of nine or larger, in part because of strong out-of-state support. Horses are shipping in for the Saturday card after last racing in Ohio, Kentucky, Nebraska, Delaware, Virginia, Iowa, Maryland, and California. Some are even coming from Canada.

Canadian horses will be represented in three stakes, beginning with Val De Dash in the $55,000 West Virginia House of Delegates Speaker's Cup. A recent allowance winner at Woodbine, he takes on Jake the Flake, a winner of three straight at Churchill Downs and Arlington.

Other intriguing races on the card include the $55,000 West Virginia Chairman's Cup, a 4 1/2-furlong sprint that features the blazingly quick Governor's Pride. He comes off a stakes victory at Charles Town, a race in which he earned a 111 Beyer Speed Figure.

In other action - Cozy Lass invades from Chicago for the West Virginia Senate President's Cup; trainer Scott Lake starts in C C's Honor in the Harvey Arneault Memorial; and Winning Connection, a recent $75,000 claim, makes his first start for a new barn in the West Virginia Governor's Handicap.

* Daily Racing Form will host a handicapping seminar beginning at 2 p.m. Saturday at Mountaineer. An analysis of the evening's races will be provided.