By Mike Farrell
While discretion is the better part of valor, it can also be the more lucrative path. That is certainly the case with Mr. Money, the clear cut favorite Saturday in the $500,000 West Virginia Derby (G3) at Mountaineer Park.
The track’s top attraction of the meet drew a field of 10 for the 1 1/8 mile test. The WV Derby always faces a tight scheduling squeeze, up against more lucrative and prestigious races like the Haskell Invitational, the Jim Dandy and the Travers.
It’s hard to compete with that company. But this year Mr. Money adds pizzazz to the event as he puts a three stakes winning streak on the line.
The WV Derby wasn’t a spot owner Chester Thomas and trainer Bret Calhoun envisioned for Mr. Money earlier in the year. The son of Goldencents seemed destined for bigger and better.
He debuted last summer at Ellis Park, running twice there before scoring his maiden victory in late September at Churchill Downs. Following that lone win, Mr. Money took the big plunge into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). Turned out, he wasn’t out of place.
Overcoming a bobble at the break, Mr. Money ran fourth behind Game Winner, who went on to be voted the Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old male.
Mr. Money was seemingly on his way. He wintered in New Orleans but got sick and lost training time. The best he could muster was a seventh-place finish in the Risen Star (G2) and a fifth in the Louisiana Derby (G2).
Mr. Money did make it back to Churchill Downs for Derby Day but only as a supporting player on the undercard. He put on quite a show, winning the Pat Day Mile (G3) by 5 ¼ lengths.
That brightened the day for Thomas as his By My Standards finished 11th in the Derby. The flashy effort in the Pat Day Mile put Mr. Money on a possible road to the Preakness.
Here’s where discretion came into play.
Thomas and Calhoun opted to give the colt more time to recover and chose to stay home for the Matt Winn (G3) on June 15 at Churchill. Mr. Money made short work of that field, winning by 6 ½ lengths.
Once again, it was decision time following consecutive Grade 3 victories. Was it time to come East, and face the big boys?
No was the discrete answer.
Mr. Money headed to the Indiana Derby (G3) and a victory that proved unusually challenging. Eskenforit dumped his rider at the start, ran with the field and forced Mr. Money to change lanes to avoid contact.
The race finished without incident as Mr. Money continued his winning streak.
“That loose horse had it figured out and tried to win.” said Thomas, who competes as Allied Racing Stable. “But Mr. Money shook clear. You know, it takes a lot of luck to win these races.”
And good placement and management. By avoiding the big boys, Mr. Money has fashioned an impressive streak and banked $622,820 this season.
And it could get even better on Saturday.
Other leading contenders in the race include: UAE Derby (G1) winner Plus Que Parfait, who comes off the turf following a sixth-place finish in the Belmont Derby (G1); Top Line Growth, who was elevated by a disqualification into the victory in the Iowa Derby and Fluminense from the barn of five-time West Virginia Derby winner Steve Asmussen.
1 Chess Chief , Miguel Mena, Dallas Stewart, 20-1
2 Grumps Little Tots, Reylu Gutierrez, Jason Servis, 10-1
3 Conative, Luis M. Quinones, Marat Kozhomzharov, 50-1
4 Plus Que Parfait, Corey Lanerie, Brendan P. Walsh, 7-2
5 Cornstarch, Charle Oliveros, Marat Kozhomzharov, 30-1
6 Fluminense, Joe Bravo, 118, Steven M. Asmussen, 10-1
7 Top Line Growth, Julian Pimentel, Kelly Rubley, 8-1
8 Math Wizard, Florent Geroux, Saffie A. Joseph, Jr., 5-1
9 Mr. Money, Gabriel Saez, Bret Calhoun, 6-5
10 Chilly in Charge, Horacio Karamanos, Miguel Vera, 15-1
Mike Farrell has worked in thoroughbred and harness racing for much of his career in journalism. Mike is a turf writer, harness writer, and handicapper, covering and analyzing races at dozens of racetracks around the country. Based on the East Coast, Mike has covered the Triple Crown races and the Breeders’ Cup for a number of publications, including Daily Racing Form, as well as The Associated Press. He spends time at Gulfstream Park taking in the races, and also hits the harness racing circuit in the Northeast region. He’s been a fixture at The Hambletonian and the Haskell Invitational for longer than he’d like to remember.