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A field of eleven 3-year-olds are set to run in the Grade 3, $750,000 West Virginia Derby this Saturday at Mountaineer. The 1 1/8-mile is the latest race in the 3-year-old male division saga that continues to produce dramatic results each week.
The headliners in this year’s field are two colts that recently competed in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes: Patch and Lookin At Lee. Calumet Farm’s Patch finished third, beaten 7 3/4 lengths, in the Belmont, while L&N Racing’s Lookin At Lee was a well-beaten seventh, many lengths behind the winner, Tapwrit. However, Lookin At Lee was second in the Kentucky Derby and ran respectably in the Preakness Stakes as well. He was the only horse to run in all three Triple Crown races.
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Of course, many eyes during the Triple Crown season were on Patch, who was second to Girvin in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds. The story of Patch having only one eye was what really grabbed national attention. From a handicapping prospective, it was Girvin’s Grade 1 Haskell Stakes win last weekend that catches the eye and gives Patch a boost.
Patch drew post three for the race, which is the first time he hasn’t drawn the far outside since the Louisiana Derby. Patch was nominated for several races in July, but trainer Todd Pletcher decided that the West Virginia Derby would be the best fit for his Union Rags colt. Pletcher won the 2015 West Virginia Derby with Madefromlucky.
#3 Patch – This is the type of race I had in mind for Patch right after his second-place effort in the Louisiana Derby back in the spring. All along, I’ve thought that he had a good amount of talent, but he was lightly raced and not ready for something as big as the Kentucky Derby. Thankfully, that race didn’t discourage him much, as he came back to run a solid third in the Belmont Stakes last time out. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think that Patch is a world-beater, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend singling him here. However, I do think that he’s progressing nicely and could peak late in the season in a race like this. His fan favoritism could make his price too low, though, so that could be the big negative, but hopefully, that won’t be the case.
#7 Colonelsdarktemper – After breaking his maiden at Churchill Downs by a neck, he jumped right into stakes company by trainer Jinks Fires. That move worked out well, as he was second in the Grade 3 Matt Winn to McCraken and second in the Grade 2 Indiana Derby to Irap. He wasn’t really competitive with either of those horses, but both of them would be HEAVY favorites if they were in this race. Hopefully, he can continue to progress and put in another good effort.
#2 Phat Man – He enters having won two straight races, including the Long Branch Stakes at Monmouth Park last time out. That race was the best effort of his career and sets him up to have a decent chance in this one. Trainer Joe Sharp is coming off of a Haskell victory with Girvin, so perhaps he can carry that momentum into this race. It’s a positive sign that Ricardo Santana, Jr. has agreed to ride as well, and at the price of 10-1, he’s worth a long look.
#8 Lookin At Lee – He was the only horse to run in all three Triple Crown races this year and finished second in the Kentucky Derby. However, it’s really hard to back this horse on top. In a race of this caliber, you have to at least put him on your tickets, but there is no way that you can place a win wager on him. He and his stablemate, Untrapped, are very similar horses: they both grind it out down the stretch and can be counted on to hit the board. I think it’s a negative sign that he skipped the Jim Dandy and Haskell, but maybe trainer Steve Asmussen just trying everything he can to get him a win.
#4 B Squared – A couple of nice, consistent efforts have me encouraged about a horse that looked like he might just be a state-bred runner more than anything else. Two races back, he was second to Battle of Midway in the Grade 3 Affirmed, and last time out, he was third in the Grade 3 Los Alamitos Derby behind West Coast and Klimt. West Coast and Battle of Midway would likely be favored in this race, so perhaps the competition is a bit less than what he’s been facing.
#11 McCormick – He had a solid performance in the Iowa Derby, finishing second in his first stakes race while setting the pace the entire way around the track. However, he lost to Hence, who came back to run poorly in the Haskell. McCormick could improve in his second try against stakes company, though, and the pace setup looks not that fast here. Look for him to run well once again, but he isn’t good enough to win.
#5 Impressive Edge – He’s been a fairly consistent runner in stakes races so far, but nothing to get overly excited about. He’s a logical candidate to finish out the trifecta or superfecta, but you can’t expect much else. He had every chance to win the Iowa Derby, but he never could pass McCormick and was passed easily by Hence. Hence came back to finish last in the Haskell, so that race is very much in question.
#1 Game Over – He gets yet another trainer change entering this race, but he’s one I’m very interested in because he now has Jorge Navarro on his side. He tried stakes company for the first time in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby and was only beaten 5 lengths by Irap and Girvin. After the recent results of those two horses, Game Over’s effort looks really good. He’ll have to improve in order to get the job done here, but there are several things working in his favor. He’s absolutely the correct longshot to back in a race that’s very wide open.
#9 Silver Dust – His last two races have been decent, but it doesn’t seem like he’s going to get over the hump in a race of this caliber. A class drop to allowance company looks to be needed.
#6 Watch Me Whip – He had plenty of hype early in his career but hasn’t lived up to it in any way. He was well-beaten in the two stakes races that he tried, and this race looks to be fairly difficult for him.
#10 Heartwood – In this division, nothing is impossible, but Heartwood winning would be a huge surprise. Running long for the first time, he’s also taking a gigantic step up in class.
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