08/07/2001 11:00PM

West Virginia Derby, at $500k, draws names you know

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Entries were taken Wednesday for Saturday's $500,000 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer - the richest race in West Virginia history.

Aided by a purse increase from $300,000 to $500,000, the West Virginia Derby attracted 10 runners, including headliners Outofthebox, and Thunder Blitz. Others entered are Buckle Down Ben, Marciano, Niner's Echo, Saratoga Games, Sunshinejack, Trion Georgia, Western Pride, and X Country. Post positions will not be assigned until a media luncheon on Thursday.

Outofthebox may start as a slight favorite under Jerry Bailey after running third against older horses in a comeback allowance at Churchill Downs last month. Earlier this year he finished second in the Grade 1 Fountain of Youth Stakes and second to Monarchos in the Grade 1 Florida Derby.

Thunder Blitz, who will be ridden by Jorge Chavez, also figures prominently. Fourth in the Kentucky Derby, Thunder Blitz comes off a third-place finish in the Long Branch Stakes at Monmouth on July 15.

Thunder Blitz already has experience against Outofthebox. This spring he beat that rival by 13 lengths in the Grade 3 Flamingo Stakes, a race after which Outofthebox went to the sidelines.

Bailey won't be the only Hall of Famer at Mountaineer for the West Virginia Derby. Hall of Fame rider Pat Day will ride Buckle Down Ben, trained by Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

Last year the West Virginia Derby was won by Mass Market, who defeated Florida Derby winner Hal's Hope.

Post time for the race is 10 p.m. Eastern on Saturday. It will be televised on TVG, and on tape delay Sunday from 5:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. on ESPN2.

Supporting the West Virginia Derby are five $55,000 stakes. An interesting undercard race is the Harvey Arneault Memorial Handicap, which features the Scott Lake-trained In C C's Honor with Chavez in the irons.

Enhanced by purse supplements from slot machine revenue, purses for the Saturday evening card total nearly $900,000. The entire nine-race card is composed exclusively of stakes and allowances.