2024 Kentucky Derby Contenders: WEST SARATOGA

The 150thKentucky Derby (G1) is Saturday, May 4, at Churchill Downs, offering a record $5 million purse. The field is limited to 20 starters based on Derby qualifying points from dozens of prep races. 


West Saratoga

If, by some wild stretch of the imagination, you had decided to bet $2 across the board on every race an $11,000 yearling purchase named West Saratoga ran – whether you lived west of Saratoga Springs (not hard to do), or liked how the colors of the Colorado state flag were incorporated into the owner’s silks, or you just love gray horses – you would have almost doubled your money, as the horse has fashioned a 2-5-1 record from 10 starts, much to the delight of his connections.

Now that the son of Exaggerator has qualified for the Kentucky Derby (!!!)  with 67 points (!!), placing him 11th (!) on the leaderboard, would you roll over your winnings on him, knowing that he is the lone graded stakes winner for owner Harry Veruchi, who’s been in the game since 1983, or that (trainer) Larry Demeritte’s only other graded stakes winner was Memorial Maniac, who took the Stars and Stripes Turf Classic (G3) in 2010?


West Saratoga (who is actually named after the Colorado street where the owner lived, not the famous New York racetrack) was atop the leaderboard for a brief shining moment after his victory in last year’s Iroquois (G3) and is no worse than third in three starts this year.   One may dismiss him as slow but steady (his highest Equibase speed figure is 93), and he’s never faced the quality horses he’ll see on May 4, but he seems to have not only matured from age 2 to (0-2-1 in 3 starts), and the added distance doesn’t seem to faze him.

His jockey, Jesus Castanon, has won a Triple Crown race, taking the 2011 Preakness with Shackleford.

His owner, 71-year-old Veruchi, buys horses for the sole purpose of having fun.

And Demeritte, originally from the Bahamas, has been battling cancers for years – multiple myeloma (bone cancer) and a disease called amyloidosis – but says his positive attitude and faith have kept him going.

“Doctors said I had six months to live and that was six years ago. So I’ve been blessed and thankful for it,’’ he said.

2024 Kentucky Derby Contenders: West Saratoga

Betting advice: How could you not?

Post position: 12

Odds: 50/1

Jockey: Jesus Castanon

Trainer: Larry Demeritte

Owner: Harry Veruchi

Career record: 10-2-5-1

Career earnings: $460,140

Most recent race: Jeff Ruby Steaks, March 23, (2nd)

Top Equibase speed figure: 93

Pedigree: Exaggerator-Mo Wicked, by Uncle Mo 

Color: Gray/roan 

Running style: Mid-pack

Notes: West Saratoga continued his preparation for the Derby by working 6 furlongs in 1:16.20 over a wet-fast Keeneland track Friday (April 19) … Castanon, who was up for the work, has not ridden in the Derby since finishing fourth on Shackleford.  “It’s about never giving up and to keep trying,” Castanon said of returning to the Derby scene 13 years after his initial run.


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