West Virginia Derby Switches to Sunday This Season

Mountaineer Park’s premier stakes, the GIII West Virginia Derby, will shift to the first Sunday in August with a later post time this year in an effort to make the $500,000, nine-furlong race for 3-year-olds better stand out against national simulcast competition.

The West Virginia Derby, plus the supporting GIII $200,000 West Virginia Governor’s S. at 1 1/16 miles for 3-year-olds and up, will now be carded Sunday, Aug. 6, after the track received unanimous permission for that change at Tuesday’s West Virginia Racing Commission (WVRC)  meeting.

The purses for both stakes remain level from last year.

Jim Colvin, Mountaineer’s racing director, detailed to commissioners the reasons for the switch.

“This year, we are requesting to run our Derby on Sunday versus Saturday [because] we are trying to stay off the Grade I races [at competing tracks] on Saturday. I know there was some problems in the past about races overlapping, That was one of the reasons,” Colvin said.

In 2022, the West Virginia Derby went off at 5:56 p.m. Eastern, just seven minutes after Saratoga’s GI Whitney S., the nation’s marquee race that Saturday. In 2021, the West Virginia Derby went off a 5:39 p.m., 11 minutes ahead of the 5:50 p.m. Whitney.

“We are also changing the [first] post time to 5 p.m. instead of the normal 2 p.m. post time on Derby day,” Colvin continued. “The seventh and eighth races, which would be the Derby and Governor’s races, would be close to being in prime time on TVG as well.”

Starting Apr. 30, Mountaineer will race 124 dates on Sundays through Tuesdays, with Wednesdays added June 21-Dec. 13. Colvin said another aim with the switch to Sunday is so bettors don’t get caught off guard with the Derby being carded on a non-standard Saturday.

“We felt, honestly, to move back to a [regularly] scheduled race day would [keep customers from] getting confused on what days [we’re] racing,” Colvin said.

Also at the Apr. 18 meeting, Mountaineer was unanimously granted approval by the WVRC to be reimbursed out of the capital improvement fund for two recentl projects.

One was a $44,000 main track sand upgrade project. Ironically, even though West Virginia is one of two states (along with Louisiana) that is under a federal injunction that will keep the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA) Authority’s rules from being implemented until a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of HISA gets decided in full, Mountaineer has opted to abide by one of the HISA standards regarding track safety in case that injunction expires during the running of the upcoming meet.

WVRC executive director Joe Moore explained it this way: “In the Racetrack Safety Program, HISA requires the racetracks to replace and regrade their sand on an annual basis. Mountaineer, even though we’re not under HISA, saw this as a safety issue and wanted to go ahead and complete it before the start of this racing meet, in the chance that HISA would come into effect in West Virginia [sometime] during their meet and require them [to either do] this or stop racing until it’s completed.”

Colvin pointed out that Mountaineer totally replaced its main track two years ago, so the project recently completed this spring was more along the lines of routine maintenance to ensure a 5 1/2-inch uniformity of the top layer.

“At whatever point we do fall under {HISA’s rules], this is basically a project that’s going to have to be done annually to meet their requirements,” Colvin said. “When you have rain, some of the track ends up [washed] between the main track and the turf course. Therefore, the sand has to be replaced. We just put 300-some tons of sand on the track when we did this. It was low in some places [and] we had to add the material to get the surface consistent with the other parts of the track.”

The WVRC also approved a $79,620 capital improvement reimbursement for a rebuilt outdoor viewing deck.

“Mountaineer Park, on their apron, they have a very large deck for viewing the races,” Moore explained. “This year, the deck was in such poor shape that it was necessary, before patrons [could use it], to tear it down and replace it.”

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