Rugbyman can tackle West Virginia Derby field

Mountaineer offers three-year-olds a chance to shine in the Grade III, $500,000 West Virginia Derby this Saturday. A field of nine will renew this 1 1/8-mile event. Post time for the West Virginia Derby, Race 8 of 9 on a special afternoon program, is 5:35 p.m. EST. Pay close attention to the jockeys that shipped in from their regular haunts if playing FanXT’s Daily Fantasy Jockey game!

#6 RUGBYMAN (8-1) has a couple of potential excuses for his Dwyer debacle last time out. He was closer to the pace than he was in the Easy Goer (that he could have won with a better trip) and backed off late. Prior to the Dwyer, Graham Motion worked RUGBYMAN out twice, something he hadn’t done between any of his prior starts, and worked him faster than usual. RUGBYMAN enters the West Virginia Derby off one modest five-furlong drill, so perhaps he’ll show up with a better effort at Mountaineer. He’s bred to go long, so he should appreciate the added ground. RUGBYMAN is the upset pick with Jorge Vargas Jr. picking up the assignment.

#8 MR FREEZE (9-2) finished between #9 HIGH NORTH and #1 LIONITE when last seen in the Iowa Derby. His margin of defeat was just a half-length despite a three-wide trip, while HIGH NORTH rode the inside throughout. A reversal of fortune could be in order as MR FREEZE makes just his fourth lifetime start. Expect him to be close to a modest pace under Robby Albarado.

#5 ONCE ON WHISKEY (5-2, morning-line favorite) took the Los Alamitos Derby over #2 DRAFT PICK last time out in a gritty performance. He was off a beat slow, took the turns wide and rallied to score in his first route effort. Flavien Prat sees fit to ship cross-country for the assignment as well. There’s nothing wrong with the West Virginia Derby favorite, but others entice more.

The play: $2 exacta box 5/6/8, $3 win 6 ($15)

DFJ analysis: Robby Albarado rides in five of Mountaineer’s nine scheduled races. His day begins with 3-1 second-choice Astrollinthepark in Race 3 before he gets a leg up on favored Concord Fast (5-2) in Race 4. After riding 6-1 Bombshell in Race 5, Albarado has another favorite in Hawaakom (5-2) in the Grade III West Virginia Governor’s Stakes. His day concludes in the West Virginia Derby with the very live MR FREEZE.

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