Mountaineer's 10 Most Significant Moments
DateFri, Apr 14, 2017
10) Patty Ko's Clifford : Despite it's conventional design and aura of subdued permanence, the racing part of this facility has hosted tons of progress. Night cards and slots might be better known examples, but in no manner has the Mountain more led the industry than as the springboard for successful female jockeys. Barbara Jo Rubin (probably put on the lead when here for an historic one-nightstand), consummate- pro Donna Burnham, celebrated hottie Kim Rice, and a soon to ascend Patty Cooksie come to mind. Still, the true pioneer and gal rider most associated with the place was Patty Barton, a passionately devoted steel pixie of a woman with an appealing gap-toothed grin, D-cups of unknown origin, and guns that Ronda Rousey might envy. And it's doubtful that the unbeaten MMA champ could have decked poor Clifford Thompson more quickly. Back when riders were less collegial and responded to infractions with fists, Barton's fellow jock made the chauvinistic mistake of pushing a fresh grievance too far. One punch silenced him-and any other male counterpart who saw her as less than an equal-on OR off the racing surface. She'd come a long way, baby, and so had the track she hung her tack at.
9) The name is Bill, and I've been here before: Contrary to local belief, five-time Ky derby winning Jockey William Hartack did NOT get his start here. The surly one did, however, ride enough at Waterford Park back in the 50's to even now be remembered by a few agedtownies. Naturally, anticipation was high when Majestic Prince's pilot returned to ride and be feted here sometime in the late 60's. Hartack did not dissapoint. I can vividly recall my mom and dad, both avid players and neither prone to hyperbole, returning from an afternoon card to rave about a chronic "quitter" called "Penny Whistle" unfathomably charging from OFF the pace to score. Under the mystical guidance of a local who became legend.
8) Willie the Shoe boots one in for Baird: When the diminuitive one stopped here on his farewell tour, a fellow official more brazen than myself insisted we crash the jock's room and introduce ourselves. The tragic wreck, subsequent lawsuit, and whole issue of alcohol abuse were yet to become dark portions of his legacy , and the man was at ease. In fact, as we approached (he would prove friendly and engaging), Shoe sat erect and motionless, gazing ahead with a serenity Shaolin monks might envy. He looked equally poised winning on French Bow, a useful, if unsexy and far from invincible, starter/ alw mare conditioned by the great Dale Baird. Combined win total for THAT jockey and trainer ? 18, 278. Don't bother running numbers on other potential "Dream Teams." The 18k will stand FOREVER.
7) Deshawn lights It Up: Somehow, the big one has eluded him. But short of a WV Derby score, the local rider who has twice led the nation in wins achieved the ultimate by circling the field on a 75-1 upstart to knock down the 2015 edition of Mnr's second richest stakes, the 200k Governor's. As the wildly popular Parker and his mount, Looks to Spare (a reformed nickel claimer, no less), entered the winner's circle, throngs of onlookers erupted into perhaps the most boisterous cheering ever heard here. The outpouring MUST have come from the heart, since how many fans could have had money on the winner?
6) Lincoln legitimizes the Mountain: To say that DRF and other racing media work hard at ignoring Mountaineer would be inaccurate. The truth is, they bust their humps to look elsewhere when something significant happens here. Not so with one nationally acclaimed racing commentator whose visit for the 1998 reinstitution of our signature race, the WV Derby, seemed like the blessing of a great and benevolent king. Chris Lincoln's gravitas-the world-class charisma, distinctive cadence, and air of authority-bestowed newfound visibility on an attention-starved facility and helped propel the derby on an upward trajectory that would reach grade 2 status and three-quarters of a million in purse money.
5) Fabulous Strike explodes: Feodor, I'm No Square, Dot Your Eye-freakish performances speckle the long history of this facility. But none rival that of a then merely- promising second (or third) tier 3-yearold sent here to win his stakes spurs in our 2006 Sophomore Sprint. What followed can only be described as the shattering of whatever space-time continuum had for six decades limited the rate at which a thoroughbred could travel over Mountaineer's three inches of fine-grain river-sand. And the stratospheric 119 beyer fig not only was validated by Fabulous Strike's subsequent win in the G1 Vosburgh (not to mention 1.4 million in career earnings), but was probably a trimmed down version of whatever ACTUAL number location-conscious figure makers were unwilling to bestow on a northern panhandle effort.
4) All Stakes, all the Time: Nothing exemplified the Mountain's meteroric rise as much as its first allstakes card, offered up on WV derby day, summer of 2005-the season during which this 64-year-old racing program probably hit its apex. Given the glut of racing dates and an encroaching horse shortage even then decimating the industry, filling nine top quality events sent a clear message to competitors in this region: We WERE king of the Mountain.
3) Everyone knows the bird is the word: When a smallish, mean-spirited gelding of questionable pedigree (and connections) shot the rail to shock the world in the planet's most important horserace, who could have guessed that three months later the newly christened "folk hero" on hooves would compete in OUR derby? Credit Haskell winner Rachel Alexandra with an intimidating assist, but the bottom line is Mountaineer somehow outmaneuvered both deep-pocketed Monmouth and historic Saratoga to get Mine that Bird. In truth, Chip Woolley's eccentric demands and twitchy threats to renege made the 2009 WV Derby a Maalox experience for Mountaineer's racing staff. And the laterunner's failure to detonate gave a prophetic ring to pre-race rumors of soreness. But the mere presence of a Ky Derby winner still elevated our signature race and forged a proud chapter in mountain annals.
2) 9,000 Wins for the Wizard: Sadly, the late Dale Baird seems to have lost all support for a richly deserved spot in racing's hall of fame. No placard or bronze bust, however, is needed to validate a trainer who led America 15 times in wins and still, some 11 years after his fatal wreck, exceeds his nearest pursuer by more than 2,000. With a lot of his large family on hand (and on hold-# 9000 proved elusive for days), the somewhat taciturn horseman beamed and, for once, fully basked in an accomplishment after Frazee's Folly, one of team-Dale's sturdiest thoroughbreds, came through with the milestone. Uncharacteristically, Baird had dropped the winner well below market value to expedite the achievement. And coincidentally, the same grey steed -surely the Forest Gump of racehorses-also carried Deshawn Parker to his 2000th victory.
1) Soto stays perfect: Trained by a cult-figure whose conditioning feats strained belief, the long, classy red-horse brought an unbeaten record and locally unprecedented mystique to the 2003 WV Derby. Michael Dickinson preferred the training saddle to actual competition when targeting a race and would send his charge the nine-furlongs on just a single sprint prep. If the eccentric Englishman was counting on Soto's swag and natural ability to carry the day, his faith was not misplaced. Close thunder roared and a light rain commenced as the field loaded. It truly was as if the gods of racing had announced their presence, at long last acknowledging a half-century of hoof-beats and signaling an epic moment. Soto would take command six furlongs in, only to be engaged by the top-class Dynever, setting up a desperate showdown that would see the red horse's rival poke a head in front with 220 fateful yards remaining. At the finish it was Soto, keeping that perfect record intact and shattering the track record by a full second. His 114 beyer speed-figure remains the highest ever assigned a route winner here. And his performance still marks the mountain's finest hour.