08/02/2009 11:00PM

Soul Warrior shocks 'em at Mountaineer


By Marty McGee

CHESTER, W.Va. - Soul Warrior pulled a stunning upset Saturday in the 40th running of the Grade 2, $750,000 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Park, surging past a weary Big Drama while outfinishing Mine That Bird in the final furlong.

With Dale Beckner picking up the mount from an absent Miguel Mena, who missed his flight from Saratoga earlier in the day, Soul Warrior returned $48 after finishing a neck before Big Drama. Mine That Bird, the Kentucky Derby winner, was another 1 1/2 lengths back in a field of six 3-year-olds.

The West Virginia Derby victory was the third in the last five years for the reigning Eclipse Award-winning trainer, Steve Asmussen, who was at Saratoga, winning the Jim Dandy with Kensei only minutes afterward.

Speed horses dominated throughout the afternoon at Mountaineer, and Big Drama, with Eibar Coa riding, opened a huge lead and appeared all set to go wire-to-wire. But on the far turn of the 1 1/8-mile race, Mine That Bird and Soul Warrior began drawing closer, and it was the latter who pulled out the victory in the desperate final yards.

"The way the racetrack played all day, whoever made the lead was winning," said Mike Smith, the rider of Mine That Bird. Smith said he felt compelled to keep the late-running gelding closer to the pace than he might have otherwise.

"Mine That Bird doesn't want to run that way," said Smith. "I used too much of him on the backside."

Soul Warrior, eligible for second-level allowances, is owned by the Zayat Stables LLC. The Lion Heart colt has won 3 of 7 starts and earned $457,500 after finishing 1 1/8 miles in 1:51.46 over a fast track.

After the top three, the order of finish was Awesome Rhythm, Sunday Sunrise, and Monty's Best.

Big Drama was a narrow favorite at 4-5 over Mine That Bird (9-10). The pair both will go next in Grade 1 races on Aug. 29 at Saratoga, with Mine That Bird pointing to the $1 million Shadwell Travers at 1 1/4 miles and Big Drama going in the $300,000 King's Bishop at seven furlongs.

Beckner, who rides primarily at Pennsylvania tracks, said the victory was easily the biggest of his 16-year riding career.