VA DERBY ACCORDING TO THE TIMES-DISPATCH

By Michael Phillips Published: July 14, 2009

Of the 10 horses in this year’s Virginia Derby, two are certain to warrant attention — one going for a $5 million bonus, another will be a sentimental favorite.

Both fared well in yesterday’s post-position draw at Colonial Downs. The Derby, the track’s biggest race and one that offers a $750,000 purse, is Saturday. Racing will take place all afternoon, with the Derby scheduled as the 11th of 12 races, posting at 5:59 p.m.

All eyes will be on morning-line favorite Nicanor, which drew the No. 4 gate. Nicanor is a full brother to Barbaro, the famed 2006 Kentucky Derby winner which broke his leg at the Preakness and died several months later.

Trainer Michael Matz entered Nicanor in a maiden race at Delaware Park on May 13, where he picked up his first win in dominant fashion — by more than 15 furlongs.

At an allowance race June 17 he gave an encore by claiming the lead early and taking the victory. Saturday will represent his first entry in a stakes race, making him a wild card in the field, though one that will be heavily bet — he’ll start at 7-2 odds.

In second at 4-1 odds is Battle of Hastings, the British horse that took the Colonial Turf Cup earlier in the season at Colonial Downs. A win Saturday would put him halfway to the $5 million Grand Slam of Grass, composed of the top four races on turf.

He drew the No. 8 gate in the Turf Cup and drew No. 9 yesterday for the Virginia Derby. During his career, he’s won almost $500,000 on turf, making him a veteran presence to Nicanor’s $60,900 in earnings.

The Derby will be preceded by two other stakes races, the $50,000 Kittens Joy Stakes at 4:39 and the $150,000 Virginia Oaks at 5:15. A pick 3 bet will be offered for the three stakes races.

Also taking aim at the Derby are the other top finishers from the Turf Cup. Straight Story (10-1) finished second by a head, and will try for revenge on Battle of Hastings. He drew the No. 6 gate. Third-place Lime Rickey (8-1) drew the outside gate, No. 10, and will also take part in Saturday’s race.

The rest of the field, and their odds, include No. 1 Affirmatif (8-1), No. 2 Florentino (6-1), No. 3 Take the Points (12-1), No. 5 Safety Valve (30-1), No. 7 Hold Me Back (5-1), and No. 8 El Crespo (6-1).
The entire card Saturday will be broadcast on the TVG horse-racing network, available as a premium option for Comcast cable customers.