February 20, 2024

Patch, Lookin At Lee among 11 in competitive West Virginia Derby

Patch working ahead of the Kentucky Derby (G1) earlier this year (Coady Photography)

The classic-placed Patch and Lookin At Lee are among a field of 11 three-year-olds that will line up in Saturday’s $750,000 West Virginia Derby (G3) at Mountaineer, which will be run on a special nine-race afternoon program.

The 1 1/8-mile West Virginia Derby marks the first start for the above pair since the June 10 Belmont S. (G1). A Calumet Farm homebred trained by Todd Pletcher, Patch finished a distant third to stablemate Tapwrit in the 1 1/2-mile “Test of the Champion,” an improved showing over his 14th-place effort in the Kentucky Derby (G1). A maiden winner at Gulfstream in February, Patch tuned up for the Derby with a second to Girvin in the TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby (G2).

Lookin At Lee has placed in three of six starts this year, the most important being his 33-1 second in the Kentucky Derby to Always Dreaming. Rallying up a favorable inside part of the track at Churchill Downs, the Steve Asmussen charge found no similar path in the Preakness (G1), where he finished fourth, or the Belmont, where he was seventh by more than 28 lengths.

Winless since taking the Ellis Park Juvenile a year ago Sunday, Lookin at Lee will aim to give Asmussen a sixth win in the West Virginia Derby following earlier scores with Real Dandy (2005), Zanjero (2007), Soul Warrior (2009), Macho Macho (2012), and Tapiture (2014).

The connections of leading three-year-olds Girvin, Irap, and McCraken are all represented in the West Virginia Derby, just not by the big boys themselves. Girvin owner Brad Grady and trainer Joe Sharp send out Phat Man, who stepped up from starter allowance company to take the $99,000 Long Branch at Monmouth Park by a head last month. Stakes winner B Squared, who’s placed in the Affirmed (G3) and Los Alamitos Derby (G3) in his last two, will fly the colors of Irap’s owner Paul Reddam and trainer Doug O’Neill, while McCraken’s owner Janis Whitham and trainer Ian Wilkes send out McCormick, runner-up to Hence in the July 7 Iowa Derby (G3) in his stakes debut.

Colonelsdarktemper is quite familiar with Irap and McCraken, having finished second to them in the Indiana Derby (G3) and Matt Winn (G3), respectively, in his past couple starts for trainer Jinks Fires. Jon Court, son-in-law to Fires, retains the mount on the allowance-winning son of Colonel John.

Trainer Dale Romans has two in the West Virginia Derby. Impressive Edge finished third in both the Peter Pan (G3) and Iowa Derby, while Watch Me Whip passed tired foes to earn fourth money in the Indiana Derby three weeks ago.

A potential wild card in the field is Game Over. Winner of a maiden claiming race at Oaklawn and a starter allowance at Churchill in his first two starts, the son of Mineshaft was most recently fifth in the Ohio Derby (G3), won by Irap over Girvin by a nose. The Loooch Racing Stable colt debuts Saturday for the dangerous Jorge Navarro barn.

There are six undercard stakes at Mountaineer on Saturday, the most interesting of which is the $200,000 West Virginia Governor’s for older horses at 1 1/16 miles. Madefromlucky, the 2015 West Virginia Derby (G2) winner is among the field of nine, as is recent Prairie Meadows Cornhusker H. (G3) winner Iron Fist, Grade 3 scorers Page McKenney and Fear the Cowboy, stakes-winning Charles Town Classic (G2) runner-up Matt King Coal, and Grade 2-placed The Player.