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Talented field highlights West Virginia Derby

CHESTER — Three years after he won the West Virginia Derby, Departing returned to Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort in 2016 as the favorite for the $200,000 West Virginia Governor’s Stakes, which at that time had not yet achieved graded status.

Bred and owned by Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilscheider, and trained by Tom Drury, Departing was dispatched as the favorite in a field of nine. Then at 6-years-old, Departing took the lead turning for home and opened a two-length lead. But, he was passed in the final sixteenth of a mile by Hawaakom and had to settle for second.

“Turning for home it looked like he was home free,” said Drury, who is based in Kentucky. “He started to open up, and then he got caught. It was a very good effort, but I have to say it was the longest ride home in the history of horse racing.”

Kentucky-bred Departing retired after that race with nine victories in 27 starts and earnings just shy of $2 million. This year, the same connections will take another shot in the 1 1/16-mile Governor’s Stakes, which achieved Grade III status several years ago.

The 4-year-old colt Sprawl, also bred and owned by Claiborne and Dilschneider, is one of seven entered in the stakes on the West Virginia Derby program this Saturday. The son of City Zip has performed well at a high level, having finished third in the Grade II Stephen Foster Stakes at Churchill Downs June 26, but is seeking his first stakes score.

Sprawl finished third, only a head behind the victorious Mighty Heart — also entered in the Governor’s Stakes — in the Blame Stakes at Churchill, and fourth, only three-quarters of a length behind, in the Grade III Ben Ali

Stakes at Keeneland. In between those two races, the colt won an allowance test at Churchill by 7 ¼ lengths.

Sprawl has been training forwardly at the Churchill Training Center in preparation for the Mountaineer race.

“Anytime you get to the races for older horses, you have your work cut out,” Drury said. “Our horse is good. His Churchill and Keeneland races were good, and I don’t know if he has been the luckiest horse in some of his races. His Stephen Foster race was huge for him, and we’re looking for a little class relief.”

Along with Sprawl and Mighty Heart, a Grade III winner in Canada, the Governor’s Stakes also attracted: Bourbon Calling, Grade III-placed in 2020; Colonelsdarktemper, winner of the 2017 West Virginia Derby who is 3 for 3 this year against claiming and starter allowance foes; and Exulting, who was claimed for $7,500 in March and last time out finished second in the Schaefer Memorial Stakes in Indiana.

Drury, who also has horses stabled at Skylight Training Center outside of Louisville, Ky., said the Governor’s Cup has implications beyond the race itself.

Claiborne Farm has a long, successful history breeding Thoroughbreds, and Drury indicated the farm still has the dam of Sprawl.

“It’s a Grade III, it’s black type, and so it’s very important to us, not only to win it but for the family,” Drury said regarding the breeding aspects. “He has done very well on the (Churchill Training Center) track heading into this race, and I think he can take that track with him.”

First post time for the West Virginia Derby program is 2 p.m.

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