Updated on 09/15/2011 12:47PM

West Virginia Derby gets name in lights


The richest racing in the country on Saturday is at Saratoga, where $877,000 is being awarded over 10 races. The second richest racing is taking place at an unexpected location - in Chester, West Virginia at Mountaineer Park, a track that in the mid-1990's averaged $22,000 per day in purses.

Saturday is West Virginia Derby Night at Mountaineer. Bolstered by slot machine revenue, $875,000 in purses is up for grabs during the nine-race card, which includes the $500,000 West Virginia Derby and five supporting stakes.

With big dollars have come big-time horses. Thunder Blitz, fourth in the Kentucky Derby, and Outofthebox, the runner-up to Monarchos in the Florida Derby, will square off in the 1 1/8-mile Derby, along with eight other 3-year-olds.

For Outofthebox the West Virginia Derby is a chance to get even with Thunder Blitz. Sent off as the 7-10 favorite in the Grade 3 Flamingo this spring at Hialeah, he struggled and lost by 13 lengths to Thunder Blitz.

Thunder Blitz used the Flamingo as a springboard to a fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. Outofthebox didn't get anything out of it, except a vacation. He injured a foot during the Flamingo and was later turned out on a Florida farm.

His foot healed, but short on fitness, he returned July 5 at Churchill Downs against older horses in an allowance. Although beaten, he performed well to be third in a fast 1 1/16-mile race contested in near track-record time of 1:41.69. He earned a 101 Beyer Speed Figure, the highest of his career.

"He wasn't sent to Florida for a suntan," said trainer Bernie Flint. "He had an injury, and I was glad to see him run like he did. If you get punched in the nose, you're going to be leery about getting punched in the nose again. So it felt good to see him come back that way."

Jerry Bailey, who rode Outofthebox to second-place finishes in the Grade 1 Fountain of Youth and Grade 1 Florida Derby, regains the mount at 111 pounds, eight pounds fewer than highweighted Thunder Blitz.

Bailey isn't the only Saratoga-based jockey making the trip to Mountaineer. Jorge Chavez will be aboard Thunder Blitz, recently third in the Long Branch Stakes at Monmouth. And Pat Day rides Buckle Down Ben for trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

Other prominent runners include Marciano, Saratoga Games, Western Pride and X Country.

Post time for the West Virginia Derby is 10 p.m. Eastern.