CHESTER - The bettors knew what they were doing when they made Departing the 7-5 post-time favorite on Saturday. Under jockey Robby Albarado, the the 3-year-old gelding made it look easy as he drew off for a 8-length victory in the 44th running of the Grade 2, $750,000 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort.
Departing's final time for the 1 1/8-mile distance on a fast track was 1:51.47. His margin of victory was the largest in the West Virginia Derby since Stellar Brush prevailed by nine lengths on a muddy track in 1999.
In the early stages of the race, the 39-year-old Albarado guided Departing to the outside of the nine-horse field. And he apparently found the going quite comfortable there - midway down the backstretch, Departing was seven-wide and looking strong.
Departing won the West Virginia Derby by 8 lengths Saturday.
-- Coady Photography
"I just kept him out of trouble, and he did everything he needed to do," said Albarado, who registered career stakes score No. 463, of which 186 have occurred in graded events.
It was also Albarado's third career stakes victory at Mountaineer. The previous two came in the 2007 West Virginia House of Delegates Speaker's Cup with Buckeye Buddy and the 2010 West Virginia Senate President's Stakes with Kiss Mine, both of which are annual West Virginia Derby undercard events.
Mutuel returns on Departing were $4.80, $3.20 and $2.20 across the board. Ruler of Love, sent from the West Virginia Derby gate at odds of 13-1 under Calvin Borel, returned $8.60 to place and $4.00 to show. Overanalyze, the morning line favorite and 2-1 second choice at post-time with Rosie Napravnik aboard, returned $2.40 to show.
Completing the order were Betweenhereandcool, Shaler, Stratocruiser, Say Ow, Ledokol and Mi Sto Divertendo. Departing received a winner's share of the purse of $451,500, which elevated his career earnings to $1,079,500. He has now made seven career starts, from which he's gained five victories and a placing.
Post-race consensus among jockeys was that Departing was simply the best horse.
"We just got outrun today," said Calvin Borel, who earlier on the card had guided Taptowne to a 2-length score in the $200,000 West Virginia Governor's Cup. "Sometimes you win. Sometimes you have to tip your hat to somebody else's horse."
"We had a good trip, and we just got outrun from the far turn onward," said Napravnik of her ride on the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby winner, Overanalyze.
In the first race of the day, the $100,000 Mountaineer Juvenile Stakes, Napravnik had guided Rise Up to a 4-length victory. It was the 25-year-old jockey's first career win at Mountaineer.
A Kentucky homebred, Departing campaigns for co-breeders Claiborne Farm (headed by Seth W. Hancock) and Adele B. Dilschneider. The colt is trained by 51-year-old Al Stall Jr., who registered career graded win No. 25.
Departing broke his maiden at first asking at Fair Grounds in New Orleans (where Stall was born and raised) on Dec. 22 of last year. He was a 4-length winner of his next effort, in allowance company at Fair Grounds on Feb. 1 and four weeks later won the Texas Heritage Stakes at Sam Houston Race Park.
On March 30, Departing made his initial graded effort, finishing third in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds. But Departing's team didn't feel he was ready for the Kentucky Derby. They took him instead to the Grade 3 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne, where on April 20 he cruised to a 3-length win.
After that, Departing tried Triple Crown competition - he finished sixth in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 18. The West Virginia Derby then became the main target on Departing's radar screen. He was the first horse nominated to the race this year; the first to be entered; and he was first at the West Virginia Derby wire.
The 76-day hiatus that occurred between his Preakness and West Virginia Derby efforts was the longest in history for a horse that ultimately won Mountaineer's anchoring event (this includes the Derby's earlier days at Tri-State Park and Wheeling Downs). Departing was the 18th post-time favorite to win the race. Betting favorites now have a West Virginia Derby strike rate of 38.3 percent.
It is very unlikely that Departing will run in the Grade 1 Travers Stakes at Saratoga. But Stall did say that a trio of Grade 2 events - the Indiana Derby at Indiana Downs, the Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing (formerly Philadelphia Park) and the Super Derby at Louisiana Downs "are all in the mix."