The West Virginia Derby is back after a year’s hiatus. And so are Mr. Wireless and Bourbonic, who headline Saturday’s Grade 3 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Park.
The two 3-year-olds provide the recognizable names for the 1 1/8-mile race, which skipped 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions. Those created logistical issues shipping horses into West Virginia. That, in turn, snapped the event’s 22-year streak, which began in 1998. That return came after a seven-year absence in a race sporting a history of fits and starts.
The $300,000 West Virginia Derby’s return headlines a nine-race program on what is Mountaineer’s biggest racing day. That card comes with the $200,000 Grade 3 West Virginia Governor’s Stakes and five, $75,000 Listed or Black-Type stakes races.
Most eyes on that Mountaineer Park card go to Mr. Wireless, the 7/5 morning-line favorite. He comes into Mountaineer Park off a resounding, nearly four-length victory in last month’s Indiana Derby. Mr. Wireless scored that third victory in his last four races never being worse than second at any call. And it gave trainer Bret Calhoun optimism that there’s more in store for the Dialed In gelding.
Mr. Wireless has an endless cord of stamina
“Everything has gone really well since his last start. He’s improving and steadily getting better,” Calhoun told Mountaineer Park. “It seems like we’re never getting to his bottom; he has a lot of stamina.”
The only two blips on Mr. Wireless’ resume are a fifth in his March debut at Fair Grounds and a second to Warrant in the May 31 Texas Derby. He captured an Oaklawn Park maiden special weight race in March, then took an allowance race on the same track on May 1.
“His races have all been very good; he had an excuse in his first start, and his two-turn races have been better,” said Calhoun, who won the 2019 edition with Mr. Money. “He faced Warrant once and finished second, but I think a couple of things could have gone differently that day.”
West Virginia Derby gives Mr. Wireless his rematch
Those “couple of things” were repeated bumps coming down the Lone Star Park stretch. That was just enough to take Mr. Wireless off his game in the final 16th. Warrant passed him, holding on for a three-quarters length victory.
Mr. Wireless gets his rematch because Warrant comes in as the 5/2 second favorite. The Brad Cox charge has never finished worse than third in five starts (2-2-1), including a runner-up to Fulsome in the Listed Oaklawn Stakes May 1.
And then, there’s Bourbonic, the 3/1 third choice and owner of the biggest victory of any horse in the field. That was his improbable Wood Memorial win at 72/1. The deep-closing son of the late Bernardini parlayed that Grade 2 score into a 13th in the Kentucky Derby and a fifth in the Belmont Stakes.
Trainer Todd Pletcher put Bourbonic on the shelf since that June 5 Belmont, bringing him back for four July workouts at Belmont Park. The most recent came last Saturday where he ran a four-furlong breeze in 49.28 seconds that was 28th of 75 horses going that distance that day.
“Bourbonic has trained well since the Belmont Stakes. He needed a little freshener, and he has responded,” Pletcher said.