Fourth in the Preakness (G1) and eighth in the Belmont (G1), Red Route One found Sunday night’s $500,000 West Virginia Derby (G3) a more congenial spot. The combination of class relief, the availability of Lasix, and an honest pace helped the deep closer to swoop to his first graded stakes win, and millionaire status.
Trained by Steve Asmussen for Winchell Thoroughbreds, Red Route One had capitalized on a similar scenario in the April 22 Bath House Row S. at Oaklawn Park. He just got up that day, but at Mountaineer, he proved much the best by a resounding three lengths.
The homebred son of Gun Runner was allowed to find his feet early by Cristian Torres, who was also aboard for his runner-up effort in the Feb. 25 Rebel (G2). As Red Route One dropped 15 lengths back, front-running One in Vermillion rattled off an opening quarter in :23.30 on a track labeled good.
West Coast Cowboy was his nearest pursuer, until Groveland made a short-lived advance at the half in :47.45. Lord Miles tried to improve in tandem on the inside, but both he and Groveland were unable to sustain their bids. Also hovering in striking range was the 8-5 favorite Raise Cain, who couldn’t summon enough of a kick to threaten.
Rounding the far turn, One in Vermillion and West Coast Cowboy began to get away from them and attempted to turn the West Virginia Derby into a match race. West Coast Cowboy put his head in front as they reached six furlongs in 1:11.50, but One in Vermillion counterpunched upon straightening.
Meanwhile, Red Route One had been stoked up, and the chestnut was passing rivals readily until he had only the dueling leaders in his sights. Building up a far bigger head of steam than they had, Red Route One joined them already by midstretch and drove clear to complete 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.49.
West Coast Cowboy prevailed in his battle with One in Vermillion, by a head on the wire. A one-paced Raise Cain rounded out the superfecta another 3 1/2 lengths back in fourth. Groveland and Lord Miles remained in contact, but a chasm separated the rest – Timesatappin, Knockout Guy, Looka Looka, and Fartlek – in a strung-out gaggle of triple-digit longshots. Tapit’s Conquest was a vet scratch, and also withdrawn were Dreaming of Kona, Russian Hammer, and My Man Biggie.
Red Route One, who paid $9.80, has now earned $1,045,025 from his 12-3-2-1 line. In addition to the Rebel, he also placed in last fall’s Breeders’ Futurity (G1) and the Jan. 28 Southwest (G3). If not for insuperable traffic trouble in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2), he likely would have been nearer than fourth.
The Kentucky-bred is a full brother to turf stakes scorer Red Run, the near-misser in the May 3 Isaac Murphy Marathon, third in the June 10 Brooklyn (G2), and most recently fourth in the Suburban (G2). Their dam, the Tapit mare Red House, is a full sister to champion Untapable and a half to millionaire turfiste Paddy O’Prado.
Earlier in the $200,000 West Virginia Governor’s S. (G3), Woodbine shipper Duke of Love made the most of a rare dirt opportunity to go 2-for-2 on the traditional North American surface. The Josie Carroll trainee had scored his only prior stakes win in last September’s Prince of Wales S. at a muddy Fort Erie, and he enjoyed the off track at Mountaineer as well.
Always handy for jockey Luis Contreras, Duke of Love took charge by the six-furlong mark in 1:10.90. Surly Furious was simultaneously serving it up to him, and the two 8-1 shots wrestled down the lane. Duke of Love found extra to pull three-quarters of a length away while negotiating 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.39.
O’Connor, the 3-2 favorite, found himself too far back but finished with interest for third, albeit 5 1/4 lengths adrift of Surly Furious. Soul of an Angel, Keystone Field, King Ottoman, Everett’s Song, the lackluster Masqueparade, Droppin G’s, and early leader Altmeister concluded the order under the wire. Best Actor, Buck Moon, and War Campaign were scratched.
Campaigned by MyRacehorse, Duke of Love sports a mark of 12-4-1-0, $443,817. The Ontario-bred competed in all three jewels of the 2022 Canadian Triple Crown, but landed his only blow in the Prince of Wales. He was a well-beaten eighth in the Queen’s Plate on Tapeta and seventh in the Breeders’ S. on turf.
Duke of Love’s name is inspired by his parents, Cupid and Tell the Duchess, by Smart Strike.