07/31/2013 2:46PM

West Virginia Derby: As usual, beware of Asmussen's horse

Tom Keyser
Overanalyze will concede four to eight pounds to his opponents in the West Virginia Derby.

CHESTER, W.Va. – The easiest way to pick the winner of the West Virginia Derby in recent years has been to take Steve Asmussen at a square price. From eight starters in the premier race at Mountaineer Racetrack, Asmussen has won four times, all of them since 2005.

This seemingly trivial topic is relevant because Asmussen has the most logical alternative to 7-5 favorite Overanalyze for the 44th running of the Grade 2, $750,000 West Virginia Derby in Betweenhereandcool, an improving colt who is the co-second choice at 5-2 on the morning line for the 1 1/8-mile race. Departing also is pegged at 5-2 with all others in double digits.

Betweenhereandcool, owned by Jerry Durant, began his career with two poor efforts in maiden company in Southern California before settling down with a second and a win in maiden company at Oaklawn Park; an allowance victory at Churchill Downs; and a runner-up finish behind Looking Cool in the June 29 Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows in his most recent start.

“I’ve been very pleased with his last couple of races,” Asmussen said this week from Saratoga. “He’s come along nicely for this particular spot. I like the way he’s looking and training. It’s a good race and we have a nice chance.”

None of the Asmussen winners of the Mountaineer showcase has been favored – Real Dandy (2005) at 7-1, Zanjero (2007) at 3-1, Soul Warrior (2009) at 23-1, and Macho Macho (2012) at 9-2.

Ricardo Santana Jr. will be aboard Betweenhereandcool when they break from post 4 in the field of nine 3-year-olds. Santana has been a go-to jockey in recent months for Asmussen.

Asmussen said he has never been to Mountaineer for the race and that he will “probably watch the race like I do all of them – on my phone.”

In his stead, assistant Darren Fleming was scheduled to be in from Remington Park to be on hand when Betweenhereandcool arrived Thursday by van from Saratoga. Fleming has been here for prior wins in the race.

An intriguing twist to the presence of Betweenhereandcool: He was sired by Unbridled’s Song, who recently died at age 20, and was bred at Claiborne Farm, the co-breeder and co-owner of Departing.

Overanalyze, as the winner of the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, will carry high weight of 124 pounds under allowance conditions, with the others toting four to eight pounds less. Rosie Napravnik will ride the colt for the first time, and he will be equipped with blinkers, also for the first time.

The West Virginia Derby is carded as the eighth of nine races on a blockbuster, all-stakes afternoon program worth a total of $1.65 million in purses. First post is 2 p.m. Eastern, with the feature set for 5:45.

The weather forecast for Saturday calls for partly cloudy skies and high temperatures in the mid-70s.

Percussion will scratch from Governor’s

The top supporting feature on the Saturday card is the $200,000 Governor’s Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile race in which Todd Pletcher has two of the eight older horses entered in Percussion and Mordi’s Miracle, both with Napravnik named to ride.

Pletcher said Wednesday that Percussion will scratch. Besides Overanalyze in the Derby, he has no other horses on the card, and in fact only one trainer – Jose L. Lopez, with three, including Mi Sto Divertendo in the derby – will be represented in more than two races.

Meanwhile, one of the Governor’s nominees who was not entered was Bourbon Courage, the standout 4-year-old who has not started since incurring a minor injury in the May 3 Alysheba Stakes. Trainer Kellyn Gorder said this week from Churchill that the colt “will be back with me at the track any day” after getting time off at WinStar Farm.

Bourbon Courage, second by a half-length to Macho Macho in the West Virginia Derby last year, has earned $832,444 from just 11 starts.

Gentlemen’s Bet unlikely for Sen. Byrd

Probably the most notable horse entered in any of the seven $100,000 stakes on the Saturday undercard is Gentlemen’s Bet, the standout sprinter who upset Delaunay five weeks ago in the Iowa Sprint.

Gentlemen’s Bet has Robby Albarado named to ride in the Sen. Robert C. Byrd Memorial Stakes, but trainer Ron Moquett said it is highly unlikely the colt will run because the Grade 1 Vanderbilt on Sunday at Saratoga is still the priority.

“We only entered to protect ourselves, in case for some odd reason the track at Saratoga came up bad,” said Moquett. “It was just a Plan B kind of thing. I really don’t expect we’ll be there at Mountaineer.”

Maiden ambitiously spotted

Several of the nine derby horses look overmatched, and therefore will be big mutuel prices, including an 0-for-11 maiden named Ledokol, who had no rider named when entries were drawn Tuesday.

Ledokol is trained by Gennadi Dorochenko, the 54-year-old Russian who has pulled the occasional stunner, most notably with Hero of Order at 109-1 in the 2012 Louisiana Derby. Into this week, Dorochenko was 6 for 43 at the current Mountaineer meet.

◗ Chris Lincoln, who was prominent on ESPN racing broadcasts from 1985 through 1998, will host a one-hour show, featuring the live running of the West Virginia Derby and Governor’s Stakes, on the Fox Sports Network starting at 5 p.m. Lincoln, 65, last hosted the West Virginia Derby broadcast in 2009, when Mine That Bird ran third in his first race after the Triple Crown.