08/03/2004 11:00PM

'Pollard' leads field of 9


With this weekend's $1 million Haskell at Monmouth Park and the $500,000 Jim Dandy at Saratoga thinning the 3-year-old stakes division, a field with lesser star power was drawn Wednesday for Saturday's Grade 3 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Park. Illinois Derby winner Pollard's Vision and Derby Trial winner Sir Shackleton are the lone graded winners entered in the nine-horse field.

Trainer Bob Baffert, who nominated five 3-year-olds to the $600,000 West Virginia Derby, did not to enter a horse. Iowa Derby winner Swingforthefences, expected by officials to be entered in the Jim Dandy and the West Virginia Derby, was also absent from the entries.

"There is just so much out there in this time frame," said Rosemary Williams, Mountaineer Park's director of racing. "[Trainers] can pick and choose where they want to go."

The West Virginia Derby is also being run one week earlier this year than in the past, a move made to secure live television coverage on ESPN. "We might look at raising the purse next year," said Williams.

The 9-5 morning-line favorite is Pollard's Vision, who comes off a victory in the Grade 3 Leonard Richards Stakes at Delaware Park on July 18. Previously, he had finished second in the Ohio Derby and 17th in the Kentucky Derby - efforts that followed his wire-to-wire triumph in the Illinois Derby, which came at the West Virginia Derby's 1 1/8-mile distance. Trainer Todd Pletcher has named Eibar Coa to ride.

Sir Shackleton, trained by Nick Zito, is second choice on the morning line at odds of 2-1. Rafael Bejarano, who leads all North American jockeys in victories this year, will ride him.

Since winning the Derby Trial in April, he finished sixth behind Smarty Jones in the Preakness and third behind Medallist and The Cliff's Edge in the Dwyer.

The remainder of the field is made up of four stakes winners, two stakes-placed runners, and a local allowance horse. Britt's Jules, a multiple stakes winner in Louisiana who finished second to Pollard's Vision in the Leonard Richards, is the one to catch among that group.

Rockem Sockem, Avid Skier, Line of Scrimmage, Mister Fotis, Ecclesiastic, and Fantasticat complete the lineup.

Saturday's card at Mountaineer includes six other stakes races and purse distribution of more than $1.2 million. Post time for the first race is 2 p.m. Eastern, with the West Virginia Derby set for 5:27.