08/03/2006 11:00PM

West Virginia Derby big test for Bright One

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Reed Palmer
Bright One has won twice in impressive fashion, but will be trying two turns for the first time Sunday.

Fans at Mountaineer Race Track hardly could have asked for a more exciting and competitive race than what awaits them Sunday with the 37th running of the Grade 3 West Virginia Derby.

The 1 1/8-mile race carries a purse of $750,000 and drew a full field that figures to make for spirited wagering. And with a cross-section of some of the most promising American 3-year-olds in the field, the winner is almost certain to enhance his stature within the division.

This is just the sort of test that the connections of are welcoming. Brilliant but relatively unproven, Bright One should have no excuses when he breaks from the inside post. Mark Guidry, who won the West Virginia Derby last year aboard Real Dandy, has the mount on Bright One, a Dale Romans-trained colt whose back-to-back victories in one-turn miles at the Churchill Downs spring meeting were breathtaking.

"You hear that all the time about a horse making his first start around two turns," said Mike Bruder, the co-owner of Bright One. "But we've got a ton of confidence in this horse. After Rene Douglas rode him in his maiden win, we sat down and analyzed every step of his race. I asked Rene if he thought the horse could go two turns, and he said, 'He'll go two miles.' "

Bruder, an Evansville, Ind., coin-machine distributor, has been in racing for nearly 30 of his 62 years, and Bright One is by far his best prospect. Bruder and his wife, Carolyn, bred the colt, and after a spectacular maiden win on the June 17 Stephen Foster undercard, Bruder agreed to sell half-interest in the colt to his longtime friend, retired trainer Delmar Daubs, for an undisclosed price.

Bright One will start just to the inside of , whose connections deliberated throughout the week about whether to run in the West Virginia Derby or Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park. Finally, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin and West Point Thoroughbreds president Terry Finley agreed that the Mountaineer race was the more prudent option, especially after Flashy Bull drew such a favorable post.

"We were pretty sure we were coming to the Haskell," said McLaughlin. "But it looked like a much easier spot in West Virginia. The West Point people are all around New Jersey and wanted to go to the Haskell, but the reality is, we're trying to win a race."

Flashy Bull will be coupled for wagering purposes with another West Point runner, High Finance, a speedy colt whose last start resulted in a resounding defeat in the June 10 Belmont Stakes.

"Obviously we were looking for a different pace scenario in the Belmont than what we ended up getting with High Finance," said West Point spokesman Jeff Lifson. "He's a better horse than that."

Another contender entered off a major drubbing is (post 7), the Bob Baffert-trained gelding who will be shooting for his third derby victory, having already captured the WinStar and Lone Star versions. Wanna Runner was the 3-2 favorite when he tired badly to finish 10th, beaten 31 lengths, in the Queen's Plate at Woodbine in his last start. Baffert and owner Mike Pegram have written off the Queen's Plate effort as being too bad to be true and are eager to see Wanna Runner return to form Sunday.

The West Virginia Derby will be televised live on ESPN as part of a one-hour broadcast (5 p.m. Eastern) originating from Monmouth. Post time is 5:27.

The West Virginia Derby, easily the richest race at Mountaineer, is the focus of a sensational all-stakes card of nine races. First post is 2 p.m.