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Focus on Governor's Cup Rewards Mountaineer Racing Office


Tom LaMarra


Fri, Jul 27, 2018


Date: July 27, 2018

From: Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort


Officials at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort received major news in late 2001 when the American Graded Stakes Committee announced that the 2002 West Virginia Derby had been granted grade III status—it was the first race in the state to achieve the distinction.

The purse for the 2002 Derby was increased from $500,000 to $600,000 and, three years later, was bumped to $750,000. The AGSC, which reviews all stakes each year and uses a formula to determine which races are grade I, grade II or grade III, for 2009 assigned the West Virginia Derby grade II status, which remained in place through 2016.

Last year’s edition was grade III, as is this year’s running. And for the first time, Mountaineer will offer two graded stakes—the $200,000 West Virginia Governor’s Stakes received a grade III designation for the first time this year.

The racing department at Mountaineer years ago started to build the West Virginia Derby program by adding other stakes to complement the fixture for 3-year-olds, and up until last year all nine races on the card were stakes. The purse for the Governor’s Stakes, for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/16 miles, was increased to $200,000 from $125,000 in 2012. The winner that year was Tapizar, who now stands at stud at Gainesway Farm in Kentucky.

The early-August race filled a regional void, and the racing office was successful in landing fairly full, quality fields as evidenced by the AGSC decision to grant the Governor’s Stakes grade III status beginning this year. It also gave horsemen, particularly those in Kentucky, another reason to ship stakes horses to Mountaineer for the first Saturday in August.

The 2018 Governor’s Stakes attracted 38 nominees, most of which are based in the Midwest and Kentucky. One of them is Stephen Smoot and trainer Wesley Hawley’s Hawaakom, who won the race in 2016 for his current connections and is one-for-one at Mountaineer.

Hawaakom earlier this year won the grade III Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas and in two most recent outings finished fourth and second, respectively, in the grade I Stephen Foster Handicap and grade II Alysheba Stakes at Churchill Downs. The 8-year-old gelding became a millionaire in his last start.

Other nominees include Steve Landers Racing’s Pioneer Spirit, who won the Schaefer Memorial Mile at Indiana Grand in his last start July 14; Crystal Racing Enterprises and Contreras Stable’s Matrooh, who finished third in the Stephen Foster; and Loooch Racing Stables and Imaginary Stables’ Imperative, winner of the grade II Charles Town Classic in 2017.

Entries for the Governor’s Stakes and the eight other races on the Saturday card will be drawn July 30. First post time on West Virginia Derby Day is 2 p.m. EDT.

For more information, contact Tom LaMarra at 859-492-8365 or at


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