WEST VIRGINIA DERBY | PURSE: $750,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS | GRADE 2 | 1 1/8-MILES
Jockey Corey Nakatani and Macho Macho let Louisiana Derby winner Hero of Order do the dirty work wearing out and 3-5 favorite Hansen in the $750,000 West Virginia Derby, then rolled home from a perfect stalking position to claim the victory at Mountaineer Casino Racetrack & Resort Aug. 4.
Hansen, the 2011 2-year-old champion racing with a blue tail for Dr. Kendall Hansen and trainer Mike Maker under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, tired in the 1 1/8 mile test after Hero of Order pressed the pace on the inside from the break all the way to the final turn. He finished fourth behind Macho Macho and late closers Bourbon Courage and Called to Serve.
"For some reason they wanted to be in front of him," Smith remarked of the pressure from Hero of Order up front. "They wound up way back and ended up costing me the race. He ran ok, but he was really hot and got pressured all the way. It just wasn't his day."
Hansen and Hero of Order matched strides for a :24.43 opening quarter, then went the half in :47.33 while Macho Macho, the 9-2 second choice in the field of nine sophomore runners, rolled along in third.
"The game plan was to make Hansen and Hero of Order have to commit early," Nakatani said. "Eddie did that, and Hansen had to use himself up."
Hansen hit the final turn on the front end after three-quarters in 1:11.23, but the gray Tapit colt was leg-weary and easily passed by Macho Macho after a mile in 1:36.75. The 3-year-old colt wrested a short lead a sixteenth out and held off a rail-running Bourbon Courage to prevail by a half-length in a final time of 1:49.98.
"This colt keeps getting better," Nakatani remarked.
Darren Fleming, assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen, was on hand to saddle Macho Macho and Tapizar, who won the West Virginia Governor's Stakes under Nakatani one race earlier.
"He really ran a great race," Fleming remarked of the West Virginia Derby victor, who gave Asmussen a record fourth triumph in the race. "We were expecting a good effort because he has really come around."
Macho Macho returned $11.60, $5.60, and $11 while Bourbon Courage paid $6.60 and $15.40 and Called to Serve paid $23. Hansen, Hero of Order, Penn's Grant, Macho Bull, Z Camelot, and Le Bernardin completed the order of finish. Morgan's Guerrilla was scratched by the stewards.
Macho Macho, a gray or roan colt bred in Kentucky by C. Kidder, J.K. Griggs & Linda Griggs out of the General Meeting mare Dazzling Contrast, came off a runner-up finish in the July 8 Long Branch Stakes at Monmouth Park. He improved his career record to 3-2-1 from seven starts with earnings of $546,214. It was his first graded stakes score; he ran third in the June 16 Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs.