08/09/2001 11:00PM

Weekend stakes outlook

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It's not often that the weekend's two biggest 3-year-old races take us to places like Mountaineer Park and Remington Park, but that's what's happening this weekend as the West Virginia Derby and Oklahoma Derby offer up a combined prize money of $800,000.

The month of August in Thoroughbred racing is usually synonymous with Saratoga and Del Mar, and rightfully so with stakes like the Whitney, Pacific Classic, Travers, and countless others contested at those two tracks over a seven-week span. Nevertheless, it's still interesting to take a peek at what's happening elsewhere every now and then as good betting opportunities can be found anywhere stakes horses are taking to the track.

This weekend's featured race is the West Virginia Derby, which features three Triple Crown veterans and five others who've run first, second, or third in one or more 3-year-old stakes this spring and summer. Also this weekend, Saratoga and Del Mar each offer their usual menus of quality racing headed by the sword Dancer Invitational and the Pat O' Brien Handicap, and distaffers do battle at Ellis Park in the Gardenia Handicap.

Coming next weekend: The International Festival of Racing at Arlington.

WEEKEND SELECTIONS:

OKLAHOMA DERBY

Remington Park, Sunday - Race 9

3-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles, $300,000, Grade 3

1) Top Hit

2) Unbridled Time

3) Compendium

SWORD DANCER INVITATIONAL

SARATOGA, Saturday - Race 8

1 1/2 miles, $500,000, Grade 1

1) John's Call

2) Craigsteel

3) With Anticipation

LA JOLLA HANDICAP

Del Mar, Saturday - Race 7

3-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles turf, $150,000, Grade 3

1) Marine

2) Romanceishope

3) Dim Sums

GARDENIA HANDICAP

Ellis Park, Saturday - Race 10

Fillies and mares 3-y-o & up, 1 1/8 miles, $200,000, Grade 3

1) Asher

2) Royal Fair

3) Rose of Zollern

PAT O'BRIEN HANDICAP

Del Mar, Sunday - Race 8

7 furlongs, $150,000, Grade 2

1) Stormy Jack

2) Swept Overboard

3) El Corredor

A purse of $500,000 have brought 2001 Triple Crown veterans Thunder Blitz, Marciano, and Buckle Down Ben to Mountaineer Park, making the 29th running of the West Virginia Derby perhaps the race's best renewal yet. Post time will be 9:55 p.m. EDT.

WEST VIRGINIA DERBY

Mountaineer, Sunday - Race 8

3-year-olds,1 1/8 miles, purse: $500,000

1) Buckle Down Ben

2) Outofthebox

3) Marciano

D. Wayne Lukas has a flair for the dramatic which he again demonstrated last week when he sent a tremendously improved Scorpion out to an upset victory in the Jim Dandy at Saratoga. This weekend, he can add to his list with Buckle Down Ben, who flopped in the Belmont Stakes and in prep races like the Fountain of Youth and Spiral Stakes. Pat Day flies in for the mount, and Buckle Down Ben will be a logical contender if able to move forward off his second-place finish to Touch Tone in the Iowa Derby. Touch Tone later came back to run a huge race for second behind Point Given in the Haskell.

Outofthebox looked good last time out in his first race since losing the Flamingo back in April. He earned a solid 101 Beyer figure while finishing third, and should improve here in his second start off the layoff with Jerry Bailey aboard. At his best, Outofthebox ran second to Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos at Gulfstream in the Florida Derby. Marciano, winner of the Fedrico Tesio Stakes at this distance, has been first or second in nine of his 13 career races and could also win this with his best effort.

I'm taking a stand against the probable favorite in the race, Thunder Blitz. He flopped badly in his last two races, the Belmont and the Long Branch, yet still figures to be a huge underlay in this spot.

WEEKEND PLAY ($100)

In the West Virginia Derby, play $40 on Buckle Down Ben to win. Then play three-horse $5 exacta and trifecta boxes with Buckle Down Ben, Outofthebox, and Marciano. The exacta box and the trifecta box will each cost you $30.

$40 win Buckle Down Ben

$ 5 exacta box: Buckle Down Ben, Outofthebox, Marciano = $30

$ 5 trifecta box: Buckle Down Ben, Outofthebox, Marciano = $30