CHESTER - Tuesday was "fight night" at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort.
There weren't any pugilists slugging it out at the Harv entertainment center. The battles occurred on Mountaineer's main racing oval in a pair of $75,000 stakes, named the Independence Day and Firecracker in honor of the upcoming July 4 celebration.
The Independence Day was pretty much a match race between Russell Road, the 8-5 favorite, and Whatthecatdrugin, the 2-1 second choice. From the half-mile post onward, no more than a half-length separated the two. At the wire, Russell Road prevailed by a head, completing his one-mile tour in 1:39.20 on a track rated "good."
WINNER — Sharp Sally won the Firecracker Stakes Tuesday at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort.
-- Coady Photography
In the Firecracker, Sharp Sally, sent from the post at 7-1, closed strongly on the outside to collar and pass the pacesetting long shot Bodacious Barb inside the eighth-pole. Sharp Sally then withheld the late charge on the rail by the 17-1 long shot Hennyville to win by 1 lengths. Sharp Sally's time for her one-mile effort was 1:39.9.
Both stakes were scheduled to be one-mile turf events, but rain during the early morning hours at Mountaineer dictated a switch to the dirt oval. Four horses were scratched from each race, including Derby Kitten, the morning line favorite in the Independence Day, and Soft Whisker, the second choice in the Firecracker early line.
"It was tough there in the stretch," said Jose Montano, who piloted Russell Road. "My horse it gave 100 percent and I gave it 100 percent, too. He's just game - I don't know what else to say. I'm breathless, but it feels great."
Three weeks ago, Russell Road and Whatthecatdrugin had engaged in a nearly identical contest at Mountaineer. Same distance. Same surface. Same track condition. Whatthecatdrugin was a touch better in that one, winning by a diminishing nose.
"Last time we got away with it; this time we didn't," said jockey Hector Rosario Jr. "You never like getting beat at the wire. My horse has got a big heart, though. He'll be back for more."
"I've ridden her three times, and she's won all three times," said Luis Raul Rivera, who was aboard Sharp Sally. "She knows what she's doing. She's a nice horse; she's a real racehorse."
"The more she stretches out, the more comfortable she looks," said Tim Schuh, who trains Sharp Sally for the Texas oil, gas and real estate entrepreneur Art Preston. "Luis rode her perfectly."
Russell Road returned $5.40, $3.20 and $2.40 across the board. Whatthecatdrugin returned $4 and $2.80 for place and show. Sneaky Kitten returned $2.80 for show. Completing the Independence Day order were St. Maximus Gato, More Than Noble, Fred High, Strike Impact and Quick Change.
Mutuel returns on Sharp Sally were $16.40, $8 and $3.40. Hennyville returned $13.80 and $5.40, and the 3-2 favorite, Starsilhouette, returned a show price of $2.60. They were followed in order by Bodacious Barb, Lead Me Not, Revelstoke, Brilliant Future and Donna Getyourgun.
A 7-year-old West Virginia-bred gelding by Wheaton, Russell Road has now won 19 stakes. His career record includes 43 starts, 25 wins and 12 placings. His $45,675 share of the Independence Day Stakes elevated Russell Road's career earnings to a lofty $1,462,918.
He is owned by Mark E. Russell and trained by Jim Casey - the latter's exploits in the West Virginia Breeders' Classics at Charles Town have garnered legendary status. Seventeen of Russell Road's stakes scores have been achieved at the three-quarter-mile track in the state's eastern panhandle. The other two have come at Laurel Park, and now Mountaineer.
Sharp Sally, a 4-year-old filly, is still in development stage. She now has had nine career starts, gaining five wins and purse earnings of $139,670. The Firecracker was Sharp Sally's initial stakes triumph. Schuh said that the filly will likely return to Mountaineer for an effort on the Aug. 3 West Virginia Derby undercard.
NOTES:?Mountaineer has scheduled several promotions this month in celebration of the Grade 2, $750,000 West Virginia Derby on Aug. 3.
Beginning at 6:30 p.m., on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays throughout July, patrons making wagers on live Mountaineer races could be instant winners of West Virginia Derby merchandise or cash. Prizes will be given out throughout the racing cards until all awards are distributed.
Also, on live racing days through July 22, any pari-mutuel ticket at Mountaineer is eligible for cash prizes, which will be drawn on July 23, at the trackside grandstand.
Fan Appreciation Days will occur on Mondays and Tuesdays throughout July, with patrons being able to purchase $1 hot dogs, $1 soft drinks and $1 drafts of beer at the trackside Vickar's concession stand from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.
And, on every Saturday from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. in July, Mountaineer jockeys will be available trackside for autographs and photographs.