In a race odd enough to be suited perfectly to the April
Fool's theme, a New York-bred named West Virginia yesterday foiled a bid by a
fellow state-bred who captured the attention of the racing world three years
ago to end a long losing streak in the Excelsior Handicap at Aqueduct.
Funny Cide, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner in 2003, engaged Liquor
Cabinet in a battle for the early lead in the 9-furlong Excelsior, took a
clear advantage on the stretch turn only to be challenged again by the horse he
appeared to have put away. West Virginia and rider Norberto Arroyo Jr., who
trailed the leaders by some 10 lengths midway through the race, passed them
both leaving the three-sixteenths pole and was in command a furlong from the
wire. At that point, Liquor Cabinet had moved into second as Funny Cide
appeared to tire, but the tarnished star rallied again to save second money
while finishing 1� lengths behind West Virginia.
The 5-year-old West Virginia ended a long drought of his own. The Excelsior
was his first win since an upset last August in the Iselin Handicap at
Monmouth. "It was nice to see him rebound," said Seth Benzel, assistant to
trainer Todd Pletcher. "[Arroyo] was patient and put a perfect ride on him.
Everything clicked today."
Not so for Funny Cide, jockey Richard Migliore said: "He ran a fantastic
race - blood and guts all the way to the wire. I wasn't looking for the lead
but my horse was keen and I didn't want to fight him. When he got alone, he
idled. When company joined him, he fought on again. It was a very game
performance." West Virginia paid $17.40 after running 9 furlongs in 1:48.28.
Barbaro wins Florida Derby
Barbaro is the real deal all right, and on his way to the Kentucky Derby
with an unbeaten record.
The 3-year-old colt came off an eight-week layoff and won the $1-million
Florida Derby at Gulfstream to stamp himself a favorite for the Derby on May 6.
The son of Dynaformer won impressively, too. Ridden by Edgar Prado, Barbaro
($5.20) battled Sharp Humor nose to nose down the stretch before pulling ahead
inside the 16th pole and winning by a half length.
Race after race, Barbaro has proven to be perhaps the most versatile colt
in the game. After winning his first three starts on the turf at three
different tracks, trainer Michael Matz tried him on the dirt and Barbaro won
the Holy Bull in the slop Feb. 4.
The 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby, on a dry dirt track on a sunny day, was the
biggest test yet. Barbaro aced the exam to run his record to 5-for-5.