Mr. Freeze breezes to W. Va. Derby win
CHESTER, W. VA.
Mr. Freeze, in only his fourth start, chilled a solid bunch of 3-year-olds with a strong front-end victory in Saturday’s $500,000 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort.
Owned by Jim Bakke and Gerald Isbister and trained by Kentucky-based Dale Romans, Mr. Freeze entered the 11/8-mile grade III fixture at Mountaineer off of a close second-place finish to High North in the July 6 $250,000 Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows Racetrack & Casino. He won his first two starts — a maiden special weight event at Keeneland in April in the first start of his career and an allowance race at Churchill Downs in June.
Mr. Freeze broke well from post 8 and held a short advantage over High North for three-quarters of a mile, but as the nine-horse field approached the top of the stretch, the leader put separation between himself and the rest.
Romans indicated he wasn’t expecting Mr. Freeze, who he purchased as agent for $75,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale, to be on the lead in the Derby. Things may not have gone according to plan, but he couldn’t argue with the result.
“He ran really well,” Romans said. “We think he’s a special horse, and I’m pretty sure we haven’t seen the best of him.”
With Robby Albarado aboard, Mr. Freeze clicked off fractions of :24.02 for the opening quarter-mile, :47.88 for a half-mile, and 1:11.13 for six furlongs.
High North began to back off entering the stretch, and Mr. Freeze gradually pulled away to win by eight lengths in a sharp 1:47.95 on a track rated fast.
The 11/8-mile Mountaineer record is 1:46.29 established by Soto in the 2003 West Virginia Derby, but most editions of the Derby have been timed in the 1:50 range.
Mr. Freeze paid $15.20 to win as the fifth choice. Draft Pick, never far back throughout, nipped High North for second, while Lionite rallied from last to fourth.
“My intentions were to leave [the gate] aggressively, and he broke extremely well,” said Albarado, who has ridden Mr. Freeze in all four of his races. “He put me in the race and was within himself. I was able to control the race from the start.
“I wanted to be off the pace, but since he broke so well at the start, I had to call an audible. I didn’t want to squeeze the inside too hard, and I think that was the deciding factor. He’s a nice horse and he did the right things to win today.”
Jason Cook, a Romans assistant who traveled to the Northern Panhandle to saddle Mr. Freeze, said the Kentucky-bred colt by To Honor and Serve out of the Tabasco Cat mare Heavenly Cat handled the 85-degree heat and high humidity extremely well.
“He never turned a hair in the paddock, and you could see he was all business,” Cook said. “He loves doing this, and you can tell he’s so proud of himself. I took him to the Iowa Derby, and after that race I could tell he has a lot of ability. He’s just going to get better.”