04/13/2017 10:46AM

Purses down slightly as Mountaineer begins marathon meet


Mountaineer Resort and Casino in Chester, W.Va., will begin a 160-day racing season Saturday that will continue through Nov. 26.

The meet is the same length as last year. Mountaineer was given permission midway through its 2015 season to reduce dates from a mandatory 210 race days per year.

The stakes schedule awaits approval from the West Virginia Racing Commission, but Rosemary Williams, the track’s director of racing, said the application would keep the purse of Mountaineer’s signature event, the West Virginia Derby, at $750,000.

The 1 1/8-mile race, which was won last year by the Bob Baffert-trained Cupid, is scheduled for Aug. 5. The West Virginia Derby was downgraded from a Grade 2 to a Grade 3 last fall by the American Graded Stakes Committee.

The meet’s other stakes are on the West Virginia Derby undercard. Williams said the purse of the West Virginia Governor’s Stakes would remain $200,000, but the others would be reduced from $100,000 to $75,000.

First post on West Virginia Derby Day is 2 p.m. Eastern. First post on all other race days is 7 p.m.

Purses in the first condition book are approximately 10 percent lower than a year ago. Williams said purses will average about $86,000 per day.

“Casino revenue is down a little, and the majority of our purse fund comes from video-lottery revenue,” Williams said.

Mountaineer has 1,525 video-lottery machines, plus table games and a poker room.

The racino has faced increased competition since Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley opened in 2014. Mahoning Valley, in Ohio, is located 46 miles north of Mountaineer.

A smoking ban at Mountaineer that began in 2015 also has affected business, according to Williams.

Racing at Mountaineer and Mahoning Valley will overlap until April 22 and then again from Nov. 1 onward. Mountaineer races Saturdays through Wednesdays but will be dark this Sunday for Easter.

Deshawn Parker, Mountaineer’s all-time leading rider, will instead compete at Indiana Grand in Shelbyville, Ind., which begins its meet Tuesday.

Parker, a winner of more than 5,200 races, has won more than 4,700 races at Mountaineer. His new agent is Jimmy McNerney, the announcer at Turfway Park and Ellis Park.

“Deshawn is going to ride at Indiana Grand and will be at Churchill when Indiana is dark,” he said. “We also have a few stakes calls at Belterra Park.”

Billy Johnson, who was Parker’s agent since 2000, is still wearing a walking boot following an October auto accident. He will represent Luis Quinones at the Mountaineer meet. He also will have Chad Murphy, a winner of more than 2,000 races who is making a comeback after having not ridden since 2010.

Quinones was a clear second to Parker at last year’s Mountaineer meet.

Johnson said Quinones also will ride at Thistledown, especially for the agent’s brother, Gary Johnson, and Lou Ruberto. Johnson, a multiple title holder at Thistledown, recently resumed training for the first time since 2008.

Ed Clouston, the leading trainer at Mountaineer in 2015 and 2016, is back at the meet, as are Jay Bernardini, Burton Sipp, and John and Bart Baird.