Mountaineer ready to open 2014 season

CHESTER – Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort will commence its 64th season of live racing Saturday. The 210-card schedule offers racing from Saturdays through Wednesdays, with Thursdays and Fridays being dark.

Post time will be regularly set for 7 p.m., with the exception of the special 2 p.m. post on West Virginia Derby Day. Nine races per card will be offered through September, with 10 races per card from Oct. 1 through the culmination of the season on Dec. 20.

“We anticipate our overnight purse distribution to average the same as last year, approximately $115,000 per card,” said Rose Mary Williams, director of racing at Mountaineer.

“If you add in our stakes purses, the total distribution last year was $26.47 million, which averaged out to slightly over $126,000 per card,” Williams said.

“We will again be offering 13 stakes this year, with an aggregate purse distribution of $2,015,000.”

Mountaineer’s anchoring event will be the 45th running of the Grade 2, $750,000 West Virginia Derby on Aug. 2. The West Virginia Derby card will consist entirely of open stakes, for purses totaling $1.65 million.

Featured on Saturday’s opening night is the $37,100 Welcome Back Dash, a five-furlong allowance event for 3-year-olds and upward. Nine horses have been entered, among them Jasizzle, who registered a photo-finish score in last year’s edition of the race.

The field further includes Musicinthehouse, who was a 1-length winner of the $85,000 Sophomore Sprint Championship Stakes at Mountaineer last November; and Tend, whose career resume reveals 13 victories and $552,400 in purse earnings.

Purses on opening night will add up to $132,400. Eighty-seven horses have been entered (an average of 9.7 per field), with an additional 17 on also-eligible lists. The card includes a pair of allowances races, six claiming contests and a maiden special weight event.

Christian P. Pilares, who ranked second among all Mountaineer jockeys in 2013 with 184 wins, has been named to ride in seven of Saturday’s races. Pilares has taken a hiatus from riding for most of the winter, but anticipates riding regularly at ‘The Mountain’ the remainder of the year.

Deshawn L. Parker, perennially the leading Mountaineer rider in recent years (he topped the standings with 208 wins in 2013), has been based at Sam Houston Race Park this winter.

Through Monday, Parker ranked second in the Sam Houston standings with 23 wins. Parker’s strike rate at the Texas track is currently 32.4 percent. and his win-place-show ratio there is 71.8 percent.

His agent, Billy Johnson, said that Parker will likely return to Mountaineer during the second half of March.

Mountaineer one-mile dirt oval has been open for training since mid-January, and will be the main locale of competition throughout the season. Racing will also be offered over the seven-furlong turf course from mid-May through mid-September.

In 2013, live races at Mountaineer generated overall wagering of $247.96 million, up 3.23 percent from the prior year. Originally known as Waterford Park, Mountaineer has been in operation since 1951. Over the decades, the Hancock County track has run nearly 129,000 races and awarded purses totaling $632 million.

Some important segments of racing’s history have occurred at Mountaineer.

It is where Hall of Fame jockey Bill Hartack recorded his first career win; where trainer Dale Baird registered the vast bulk of his world-record 9,445 career wins; and where Rapid Redux set a modern North American record with his 20th consecutive victory.

A coupon for a free T-shirt will be inside each Mountaineer live racing program on opening night. The coupons will be redeemable trackside at the beginning of Saturday’s ninth race, while supplies last.

Clubhouse dining will be available on Saturdays, with a buffet price of $15.99 per person. Admission and general parking will be free at Mountaineer throughout the 2014 season.