Trainer Dale Romans has been blessed with a number of 3yo males who have made some noise for him in this crop. Horses like Free Drop Billy, Promises Fulfilled, and King Zachary each gave the confident conditioner graded stakes victories, but we now likely have a new best of the bunch. The colt in question is the lightly raced Mr Freeze, and today he announced himself as a serious racehorse with an authoritative runaway in the $500,000 West Virginia Derby.
Sent off at generous odds of 6-1 in what appeared to be a wide open edition of the signature race at Mountaineer Park, the son of To Honor and Serve broke sharply and went right to lead under the guidance of veteran rider, Robby Albarado. Together, the pair cruised down the backstretch, carving out all the fractions of 24.02, 47.88, and 1:11.13. High North, the winner of the Iowa Derby for the terrific tandem of Brad Cox and Florent Geroux tried to turn up the heat on the leader heading into the far turn, but Mr Freeze would have none of that.
Looking every bit a colt of exceptional talent, the fifth betting choice in the field of nine drew clear at the head of the lane. From there he poured it on down the stretch to win by a widening eight lengths. Far behind the winner, Draft Pick, the hero of the Affirmed Stakes eased on by High North to earn second place money by a half-length. Race favorite Once on Whiskey never fired and finished fifth.
The final time for the 9 furlongs over the fast main track at Mountaineer was an excellent 1:47.95, making it the fastest edition of the West Virginia Derby for 15 years.
Bred in Kentucky by Siena Farms, Mr Freeze is owned by Jim Bakke and Gerald Isbister. He was picked out of the 2016 Keeneland September Yearling Sale by his trainer. The chestnut colt was landed for $75,000, a price tag which looks like a major bargain considering his quick rise to prominence since his unveiling this spring.
Mr Freeze has done little wrong so far in his career. He made his career debut just 3 1/2 months ago when he won nicely at first asking at Keeneland in a 7 furlong maiden sprint. In early June, he made it 2-for-2 by winning a contentious optional claimer going 8 1/2 furlongs. That evening at Churchill Downs, he overcame a troubled start to rally for the win.
Stepped up to stakes company for his third lifetime start, Mr Freeze once again found just a spot of bother, this time lacking room at a key juncture after a stalking trip in the Iowa Derby. Despite this, he finished with strong energy to be second, beaten only a half-length.
Now we have his coming out party in the West Virginia Derby. At a time of year when the last two sophomore male champions began to shine, Mr Freeze won’t have that opportunity because of the first half of the year exploits of Justify. Still, there are plenty of big races on the schedule to be run, and this guy looks like a colt capable of big things.
Photo of Mr. Freeze courtesy of Coady Photography