By Joe Bianca
Calumet Farm's Bourbonic (Bernardini), overmatched in two legs of the Triple Crown after scoring a Grade II upset this spring, will step a few rungs down the class ladder Saturday when invading Mountaineer Park for the track's signature race on the calendar, the GIII West Virginia Derby.
Breaking his maiden by open lengths for a $50,000 tag Dec. 6 at Aqueduct, the homebred repeated in a starter/optional claiming spot there Jan. 17 and was runner-up in a sloppy Parx allowance/optional claimer Feb. 23. Ambitiously spotted by Todd Pletcher off that run in the GII Wood Memorial S., the dark bay rewarded his trainer's confidence with a shocking last-to-first run to get up at 72-1. Unable to factor when 13th in the GI Kentucky Derby, he improved slightly when fifth in the GI Belmont S. June 5, but was still beaten double-digit lengths.
Brad Cox starts a pair of improving sophomores, most notably Twin Creeks Racing Stables' Warrant (Constitution). Graduating second out at six panels Feb. 16 at Fair Grounds, the homebred missed by a nose in a Keeneland allowance/optional claimer Apr. 3 before filling the same slot behind subsequent GIII Matt Winn S.-winning barnmate Fulsome (Into Mischief) in the Oaklawn S. May 1. Suffering a seemingly impossibly wide trip in the Texas Derby last out May 31 at Lone Star, the chestnut proved his resolve, surging late to a three-quarter length success.
The horse he wore down that day, Mr. Wireless (Dialed In), returned to win impressively in the GIII Indiana Derby July 7 at Indiana Grand and has been given the 9-5 morning-line preference here. A victory would give trainer Bret Calhoun back-to-back West Virginia Derby trophies after he scored with Mr. Money (Goldencents) in 2019 (the race was not held in 2020 due to the pandemic).
Other contenders in the seven-horse group include Bourbon Thunder (Quality Road), third at 30-1 against elders in a Saratoga allowance for trainer Ian Wilkes July 15, and Cox's other entrant Kinetic Sky (Runhappy), who most recently chased a sizzling pace before prevailing by 1 1/4 lengths in a Churchill allowance/optional claimer June 26.