09/05/2013 1:41PM

Super Derby: Departing has much in his favor

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Barbara D. Livingston
Based on his romp in the West Virginia Derby, Departing will be a short price in Saturday's Super Derby.

BOSSIER CITY, La. – Departing overwhelmed his competition last month when he won the West Virginia Derby by 8 3/4 lengths. He’ll be odds-on for an encore performance Saturday in the Grade 2, $500,000 Super Derby at Louisiana Downs.

“He’s definitely the horse to beat,” said Dan Peitz, who trains rival Bashaar.

Departing is a multiple graded stakes winner of more than $1 million. He is by one of the planet’s hottest stallions in War Front, and goes for connections who have won the Super Derby. Departing is also still an improving horse, according to trainer Al Stall Jr.

“He’s on the upswing, there’s no question about that,” Stall said. “Since the Preakness, he’s really been on the upswing – the way he trains, just everything about him. He does everything a little better. He’s stronger in his gallops, his breezes. And his last race was explosive. He’s just starting to mature.”

While the scales are decidedly tipped in Departing’s favor Saturday, he will still have to run down Cameo Appearance, who has a chance to shake loose under Patrick Valenzuela. Departing could also be challenged late by Bashaar, fourth against some of the nation’s best 3-year-olds in the Jim Dandy. Departing will also be rematched with Ruler of Love and Holiday Mischief, each of whom have finished second to him in stakes.

The mile and an eighth Super Derby is one of six stakes worth a total of $950,000 on the richest program of the meet. The card also features a $100,000-guaranteed pick four, with the all-stakes sequence to start in eighth, the $100,000 Happy Ticket for 2-year-old fillies. The bet, which has a 50-cent minimum, ends with the Super Derby. There is a special first post of 12 p.m. Central.

Departing came into the Preakness off a 3 1/4-length win in the Grade 3 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne. He was unable to reproduce that effort at Pimlico, however, finishing sixth behind wire-to-wire winner Oxbow. Departing did not resurface until last month, in the Grade 2 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer.

“We were confident going in there off the way he trained,” Stall said. “You never expect to win by a margin like that, but we thought he was going to run a really big race.”

Robby Albarado, who won the Super Derby with Strong Contender in 2006, has a return mount on Departing. Stall, a two-time winner of the Super Derby, with My Pal Charlie (2008) and Apart (2010), trains Departing for Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider, the partnership that took the 1998 Super Derby with Arch. Dilschneider also won the race with Apart.

Cameo Appearance will be making his first start at two turns, and his first on dirt. He was third in the $66,000 Straight Line, a one-turn mile on Polytrack at Arlington, in his last start Aug. 17. Prior to that he was a was a front-running winner of a pair of main-track sprints at Arlington.

“He’s supposed to be better on the dirt,” said trainer Wayne Catalano. “As far as pedigree, we thought he’d be a dirt horse. But he’s run so well on [synthetic] that we hadn’t tried dirt.”

Catalano said he’s hopeful the horse will handle the added distance based on what he saw in the Straight Line. The trainer will also send out Treasury Bill, runner-up in the Grade 2 San Vicente at Santa Anita in February.

Bashaar rallied in the Jim Dandy, finishing 8 1/4 lengths behind the winner, Palace Malice.

“I thought we would have been a little more competitive than we were, [but] he kind of had an inside trip and that was a little something different for him,” Peitz said. “He might have been closer than he normally is; he was probably a little more forward.

“But I liked the results of the Travers. All the horses that finished in front of him came back and ran well in the Travers, so that probably means the Jim Dandy was a pretty solid race.”

Will Take Charge and Moreno, second and third in the Jim Dandy, returned to run one-two in the Travers. Palace Malice, meanwhile, finished a close fourth.

Bashaar will break from the rail under Channing Hill.

Holiday Mischief earned a fees-paid berth in the Super Derby for his head win in the $100,000 Prelude at Louisiana Downs on Aug. 3.

“I thought it was a really game effort,” said co-owner and trainer Joe Offolter. “He was just determined. He’s been a later-maturing kind of horse, and hopefully he’s going in the right direction. I think he’s probably even put on some weight since the last race.”

Cliff Berry has the mount.

The field is completed by Runaway Stephen, third in the Prelude.