WEST VIRGINIA DERBY | PURSE: $750,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS | GRADE 2 | 1 1/8 MILES
Winchell Thoroughbreds' Tapiture overcame a troubled trip and a lost shoe to gamely defeat a determined Candy Boy at the wire to take the $750,000 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort Aug. 2.
It was the fourth graded-stakes victory for Taptiture, a 3-year-old colt by Tapit bred by in Kentucky by his owner. Tapiture has been based at Saratoga Race Course with trainer Steve Asmussen, who shipped the colt to Mountaineer two days before the race with assistant Darren Fleming.
The 1 ⅛-mile West Virginia Derby attracted a field of eight, three of which had competed in the Kentucky Derby: Tapiture, Candy Boy, and Vicar's in Trouble. They finished one-two-three, respectively, in Mountaineer's marquee race.
Vicar's in Trouble took the early lead from post 4 and met with mild pressure from For Goodness Sake through early fractions of :23.39 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and :47.23 seconds for a half-mile. Meanwhile, Tapiture and jockey Rosie Napravnik were tucked inside third with Candy Boy, who broke from the outside post, edging up to engage the leaders on the outside through six furlongs in 1:11.66.
Louisiana Derby winner Vicar's in Trouble held well under Alan Garcia through a mile in 1:37.60 but was passed by the rallying Candy Boy, who was ridden by Corey Nakatani. Tapiture, stuck behind those two until mid-stretch, was guided outside by Napravnik, and surged late to nail Candy Boy by a nose on the wire.
Vicar's in Trouble finished two lengths back in third and five lengths in front of Classic Giacnroll. The final time on a fast track was 1:50.66.
Owner Ron Winchell won the West Virginia Derby in 2007 with Zanjero. He said Tapiture's win was more exciting.
"It was way more exciting with that finish," Winchell said. "Watching him in the stretch I didn't think he'd get there. I was absolutely holding my breath."
Sadler, who watched the race from the clubhouse apron, cheered on Candy Boy and from his angle it appeared the Robert B. Lewis Stakes winner had held on. He watched an instant replay in the winner's circle and still didn't know the result until the numbers were posted.
"I would have been happier had it been the other way around, but our horse ran well," Sadler said. "I'm really proud of him because he came a long way for this race."
Napravnik, who won three stakes at Mountaineer on the day, said she was concerned entering the stretch when Tapiture had no running room behind Vicar's In Trouble and Candy Boy, and noted the colt lost a shoe earlier in the race.
"This was a race that was all about the quality of the horse," said Napravnik, who rode Tapiture to victory in the Matt Winn Stakes in his last start.
Tapiture, the second choice, paid $5.60, $2.60, and $2.20 across the board. Candy Boy, the slight favorite, returned $2.60 and $2.20, while Vicar's in Trouble paid $2.80 to show. The $2 exacta paid $13.60 and the $2 trifecta $36.80.
Tapiture, out of the Olympio mare Free Spin, now has four wins, all in stakes, in 10 starts. Winchell mentioned the Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) at Parx Racing in late September as a possible next start for the colt.
"The key to him is giving him some time," Winchell said. "We crammed in a lot of races earlier this year. I'll tell you, I think he has filled out some, and he looked fantastic in the paddock today."
It was the fifth West Virginia Derby victory for Asmussen, who also won the race with Real Dandy (2005), Zanjero, Soul Warrior (2009), and Macho Macho (2012).