07/30/2015 2:21PM

West Virginia Derby tricky puzzle to solve

Barbara D. Livingston
Madefromlucky (outside), showing training at Saratoga, will try to rebound from a dull performance in the Belmont Stakes as a contender in the West Virginia Derby.

The Grade 2 West Virginia Derby is wide open, as are many of the races at Mountaineer on Saturday.

The $750,000 West Virginia Derby tops the biggest day of the Mountaineer season. All nine races are stakes, and total purses for the day are $1.65 million. The undercard stakes for the most part have drawn large, deep fields. The star of the program is last year’s champion male sprinter and Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner, Work All Week, who runs in race 6, the Sen. Robert C. Byrd Memorial.

Saturday is a rare afternoon card at Mountaineer, with a first post of 2 p.m. Eastern. All of the races will be streamed live on DRF.com.

The 1 1/8-mile West Virginia Derby drew a field of 11, but Stanford and Tekton are more likely to run at Saratoga this weekend.

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The West Virginia Derby is a complicated race because Madefromlucky and Tale of Verve, who might be the two favorites, are coming off subpar races in the Belmont Stakes, in which they finished sixth and seventh.

Two other contenders, Bent On Bourbon and Iron Fist, bring winning streaks into the race but will be facing the toughest fields of their careers.

Additionally, Souper Colossal ran an unusual race when second to Stanford in the Long Branch Stakes when making his first two-turn start of the year. He can be expected to improve.

West Virginia Derby, race 8

Key contenders

Madefromlucky (Last 3 Beyers: 83-94-90)

◗ He ran flat in the Belmont Stakes, and trainer Todd Pletcher said he may have been affected by a virus that went through his barn, even though he didn’t show any symptoms before or after the race.

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“He didn’t have the same energy level, never seemed to make much impact on the race at any point,” Pletcher said.

◗ In his start prior to the Belmont, Madefromlucky earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 94 while winning the Grade 2 Peter Pan at Belmont Park.

◗ Earlier this season, Madefromlucky finished second in the Grade 2 Rebel and fourth in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park. American Pharoah won both of those races.

◗ Pletcher said Madefromlucky had difficulty handling the turns at Oaklawn and liked the wider turns at Belmont better.

“Just got to try and keep him motivated on the turns,” Pletcher said about the West Virginia Derby.

◗ Joe Bravo has the mount.

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Tale of Verve (Last 3 Beyers: 80-91-70)

◗ He finished second to American Pharoah in the Preakness over a sloppy track but failed to fire in the Belmont. Trainer Dallas Stewart said the horse swallowed a lot of dirt in the Belmont.

“He had a lot of stuff coming out of his head after the Belmont,” Stewart said. “He had dirt in his lungs. He just couldn’t breathe. We sent him to WinStar for two or three weeks and used the hyperbaric chamber.”

◗ Stewart said he would like to take on American Pharoah again.

“I’d like to try him again on a dry track, somewhere other than Belmont Park,” Stewart said. “If he runs big Saturday, we’ll march right up to Saratoga with him for the Travers.”

Bent On Bourbon (Last 3 Beyers: 93-81-80)

◗ He has won the Grade 3 Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows and an optional claimer and a maiden race at Churchill Downs in his last three starts for trainer Eddie Kenneally. Corey Lanerie has the mount.

“He’ll be facing tougher competition and trying a new track,” Kenneally said. “How he handles the surface will be important. He’s a horse who needs aggressive riding. Corey has won on him before.”

Tommy Macho (Last 3 Beyers: 95-95-87)

◗ He is Pletcher’s second runner in the race. He finished third to Speightster and Texas Red in the Grade 3 Dwyer last out. In his prior start, he won a first-level allowance at Belmont Park.

Iron Fist (Last 3 Beyers: 93-93-88)

◗ He has won a first-level optional-claiming race and a maiden race at Santa Anita for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer in his last two starts.

Souper Colossal (Last 3 Beyers: 86-81-81)

◗ After a start-and-stop beginning to his 3-year-old season, he finally got to go two turns on dirt in his most recent race, the Long Branch Stakes. He was down on the inside battling for the lead with another horse when Stanford slingshot to the lead from the outside entering the stretch. After disposing of his pace rival, jockey Paco Lopez took Souper Colossal to the outside of Stanford, and he came again to be beaten 1 1/4 lengths.

“I was surprised that other horse went by him,” trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. said. “I don’t think he ever really saw him. At the three-sixteenths pole, Stanford had two lengths on him, and he could have packed it in, but he kept trying. He should improve at a mile and an eighth.”

– additional reporting by David Grening