Blocked on the rail with a furlong remaining, Tapiture swung three-wide to the outside under jockey Rosie Napravnik, and was victorious by a nose over Candy Boy in Saturday's 45th running of the Grade 2, $750,000 West Virginia Derby presented by Xpressbet.
It was a record fifth win in the 1 1/8-mile event at Mountaineer Casino Racetrack & Resort for trainer Steve Asmussen, and the second for Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC, the nom de course for owner/breeder Ron Winchell and his family. The Winchell's previous win had been with the Asmussen-trained Zanjero in 2007, whose margin at the wire was identical to Tapiture's.
But when he was asked if this year's triumph was more thrilling than the one seven years ago, Winchell said, “Yes. In the stretch I didn't think there was any possibility that (Tapiture) could get there. I was absolutely holding my breath.”
He wasn't the only one. Candy Boy, ridden by Corey Nakatani, was sent off as the 8-5 post-time favorite in the field of eight. Tapiture was 9-5 in the betting. After a rough swing around the first turn, Candy Boy stalked the pace-setting Vicar's in Trouble until mid-stretch, then forged to the lead and appeared headed for victory.
Tapiture, meanwhile, had come up on the rail, but was briefly checked by Napravnik as a tiring Vicar's in Trouble took a step towards the inside and closed off that route. There was no room between horses, so Napravnik made a quick decision to circle the front-runners. In essence, she yanked Tapiture to the outside.
The strategy worked. With an eighth of a mile remaining, Tapiture was two-lengths behind. With a sixteenth of a mile to go he trailed by a length. With 50 yards to go it was still Candy Boy. With ten yards to go it was bobbing heads. And then in the final stride it was Tapiture – to win.
Those who backed Tapiture in the mutuels received $5.60, $2.60 and $2.20 across the board. Candy Boy returned $2.60 and $2.20 to place and show. Vicar's in Trouble, under jockey Alan Garcia, returned a show price of $2.80. Completing the order were Classic Giacnroll, For Goodness Sake, Divine View, Key for Success and Only I Know.
Asmussen had previously won the West Virginia Derby with Real Dandy in 2005, the aforesaid Zanjero, Soul Warrior in 2009 and Macho Macho in 2012. Overall, he has started ten horses in the race – none of them (including his five winners) have been either morning line or post-time favorites.
The Asmussen/Napravnik team had a good day on Saturday. They also registered a 1 1/2-length score in the $100,000 Senator Robert C. Byrd Memorial Stakes with Mico Margarita; and a 12 ½-length score with Regally Ready in the day's finale, the $100,000 West Virginia House of Delegates Speaker's Cup.
Regally Ready thus became the first Breeders' Cup winner to win a race at any level at a West Virginia track. In 2011, he had been victorious in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs. His victory in the Speaker's Cup pushed his career purse earnings to $1,486,666.
Tapiture is now a seven-figure earner in his own right – his $456,750 share of the West Virginia Derby purse brought his career bankroll to $1,014,060. Napravnik said in her post-Derby commentary that “early in the race, Tapiture lost a shoe. What you saw today was all about the quality of the horse.”
Nakatani's commentary was made as he headed for a post-race shower in the jockeys' room. “We got carried out on the first turn. We lost a lot of position at that point. I didn't want to push Candy Boy too soon. He traveled across country and ran a dynamite race.”
He then turned to Garcia and said, “Hey buddy, both of us just got beat by a better horse today.” Garcia laughed, and then gave Nakatani a nod. It should be noted that the trio of horses who already had achieved Grade 2 wins prior to the West Virginia Derby finished one-two-three in the race.
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