CHESTER - Demonstrating why he was prohibitively favored at odds of 7-10, Tend closed strongly on the rail for a half-length victory in the $33,700 Welcome Back Dash, the feature event on Friday's opening-night program at Mountaineer Casino Racetrack & Resort.
The seven-year-old gelding, a half-brother to the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic winner Blame, was ridden by DeShawn Parker - who also completed a late double by booting home the 7-2 third choice Jiggle in the final event on the ten-race card.
Parker, age 41, led all Mountaineer jockeys in 2011 with 380 wins. His grand total of 400 for the year put him on top of the North American standings in that department - the second consecutive year that he topped both the local and national standings.
Tend, riden by jockey DeShawn Parker, wins the Welcome Back Dash at Mountaineer Racetrack on Friday. (Courtesy of Coady Photography)
He was one of two jockeys to register riding doubles at Mountaineer on Friday. The other was Oswald Pereira, who scored with the 9-1 shot Swift Feather in the seventh race and with the even-money favorite Because of Me in the eighth.
Tend returned straight mutuel prices of $3.40, $2.20 and $2.20 across the board. His record now includes 11 wins and 13 placings in 34 career starts, and his $20,894 share of the purse on Friday elevated his career earnings to $486,826.
The final time by Tend in the five-furlong Welcome Back was :59.73, on a muddy track that had been sealed. Rain fell steadily during the early races on the card, and foggy conditions encased the feature. Tend is a come-from-behind runner, and the Welcome Back win was his first at the five-panel distance.
Mountaineer Notes: Trainer Donna Zook, who has 22 stalls at Mountaineer, won Friday's third race with Durand Park, who led wire-to-wire under Jockey Luciano Hernandez. ... Trainer Jeff Radosevich, who won 35 races at Mountaineer in 2011, scored in Friday's fourth race with Sparkling Lover, who drew off by six lengths under Ernesto Oro. ... Coady Photography, which also has the contracts at Keeneland, Oaklawn Park, Calder Race Course, Colonial Downs and Presque Isle Downs, is now the MTR official track photographer.
Friday's first race resulted in a huge surprise when Montana Slew, a 45-1 shot, cruised home a 1 -length winner under jockey Brandon Whitacre. Running for a $5,000 claiming tag the eight-year-old gelding returned straight mutuels of $92, $23.20 and $11 across the board.
Whitacre, age 28, doesn't ride with frequency at Mountaineer. But when he does he tends to get results. His effort aboard Montana Slew represented only the fourteenth mount he had ever had at the northern panhandle track, but it was his seventh victory.
"It was a great way to start things off," said Whitacre, who is originally from Martinsburg, West Virginia, in the state's eastern panhandle near the Charles Town racetrack. "I started my riding career in Maryland in 2003. I've done a lot of riding at Charles Town. This winter I was at Turfway Park (in northern Kentucky), where I won about a half-dozen races. I go wherever the sport takes me."
Another longshot won the second race on Friday's card. This was Prometheus, who closed from 7 lengths behind with a furlong remaining to win by three-quarters of a length.
Guided by jockey Darryl Brinkley, Prometheus returned $31.80, $10.80 and $5.40 across the board. The two-dollar daily double on races one and two paid a spectacular $2,131.40.
Runners who either set or closely attended the early pace were victorious in seven of Friday's races. The wet going may have been a factor. "But we were lucky," said Rose Mary Williams, Mountaineer's director of racing.
"The storms that came through the Midwest caused the cancellation of racing at Turfway," Williams said. "Simulcasting at Churchill Downs and Keeneland was cancelled. But the weather wasn't anywhere close to being as bad up here."
Off-site wagering on Mountaineer's Friday card totaled $1,199,713, a figure that was up 12.5% from last year's opening. Friday's fields averaged 8.5 horses per race. The purse distribution for the evening totaled $135,700. Mountaineer's 210-day season will offer live racing on Fridays through Tuesdays through December 21.