Enjoying the pre-race atmosphere

CHESTER – The Oliverios of Clarksburg had never heard of the West Virginia Derby until their daughter’s boyfriend mentioned it earlier this year.

“We are first time visitors to the West Virginia Derby and we have loved every moment. We came up Friday afternoon and are staying at the resort. We came to the races Friday night and are back today for the Derby and the other races. And we will stay until Sunday morning before we go back to Clarksburg. I can tell you we will definitely come back,” Jerry Oliverio stated.

“This is a great atmosphere, very pretty country and we also went to the casino which was a lot of fun. And this is only a two and a half hour drive from Clarksburg. We really enjoyed ourselves here,” Jerry noted.

“We will come back again. We met some new friends and they are back at their same table next to us,” added Cinda Oliverio.

“We are back but no bragging today,” laughed John Hager. “I am here to win so watch out.”

Hager and his wife Sherry returned to the West Virginia Derby for the second year in a row after, “we had a really good time last year.”

“What I really enjoy about Mountaineer is the fact they let us bring our motor home and park it here. Then they send a cart to pick us up and bring us to the track and then drive us back to our motor home after the races. This is a very friendly place,” said John Hager of North Huntington, Pa.

“We usually come here about three times a year but the West Virginia Derby is a must now. We will also come back to the Derby next year. I haven’t picked a horse for this year’s race yet. My brother-in-law will come along soon and he likes to watch the horses on the track before he decides and runs inside to make a bet,” explained Hager.

“We have had a real good time here this weekend. The Mountaineer is a first class place,” he declared.

Shannon Magallon and Jennifer Evans of Youngstown were attending their first West Virginia Derby Saturday.

“We have been here a couple of time before but we came today because of the experience. We arrived early so we could study the program,” said Magallon.

“We love horse racing. This is something to do that is different. I like Overanalyze because there is a woman jockey,” remarked Evans.

Keith Baer and Sersia Stoll of Ford City, Pa. said they visit Mountaineer, “a couple times every year.”

“This is our fourth year in a row to come to the Derby. It is exciting to watch because of the quality of the horses at this race. We have seen some really good races here and expect to see another one at this year’s Derby. It is a nice drive from our home and the people here are very friendly. It is a good place to visit,” stated Baer.

Jill Byrne of Fox Sports came to the racetrack to work Saturday but she admitted to also, “enjoying the race day atmosphere.”

“This is a very important race in the racing business. This is one of the last Derby races for the three year olds before they move up to race against older horses. Over the years the West Virginia Derby has attracted some very good horses and some very good trainers as well as jockeys. This is one of the premier races taking place in the country today,” Byrne explained.

Byrne advised first time race track visitors, “should get down to the rail. This is one of the few sports that allow you to get close to the athletes. You can’t touch the horses but you can stand very near to them and watch out they react to all of the excitement.”

Byrne grew up in the sport noting her father was a horse trainer.

“I literally grew up on a race track. I love all of this. I get to do what I love and love what I do. I was riding show horses as a little girl and was then riding as a jockey,” related Byrne.

Veteran television horse race and Fox Sports Host Chris Lincoln said the West Virginia Derby has grown in importance.

“You will see some of the greats of the sport at the Mountaineer. Fifteen jockeys who are in or will soon be in the Hall of Fame have rode horses here. We have several outstanding trainers bring their horses to this track and that says a lot about Mountaineer. Plus we have a $750,000 purse today,” observed Lincoln.

“Mountaineer is a first class racetrack and is managed well. It is a pleasure to be here and part of the West Virginia Derby,” said Lincoln.

(Gossett can be contacted at dgossett@heraldstaronline.com)