08/06/2016 6:12PM

Cupid takes the wide route to West Virginia Derby win

Coady Photography
Rafael Bejarano rides Cupid to victory in the West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer on Saturday.

Cupid broke from the rail and made a beeline for the center of the track. He raced wide on the first turn, wide on the backstretch, wide on the second turn, even wider through the homestretch. In other words, everything went according to plan in the Grade 2, $750,000 West Virginia Derby on Saturday at Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort. Cupid won by four lengths.

It was obvious from early on the card that the Mountaineer main track had a deep, tiring rail. Trainer Bob Baffert could see it all the way across the country at Del Mar. Rafael Bejarano rode Cupid to his instructions.

“I told him he’d better stay wide,” Baffert said. “He got him out there.”

Baffert likes to say he’s been on the dirt-road derby trail this year. Maybe, but it’s a road with a gold shoulder. American Freedom won the $250,000 Iowa Derby, and Cupid captured the $500,000 Indiana Derby three weeks before taking down the $446,250 winner’s share of the West Virginia Derby purse.

Cupid cost his owners, Michael Tabor and Mrs. John Magnier, $900,000 at auction, but even though his 3-year-old campaign went awry in late spring and early summer, he now has earned more than $1.3 million.

Cupid delivered one of the most impressive Kentucky Derby prep performances of 2016 when he won the Rebel Stakes in March, but he lost his air finishing 10th in the Arkansas Derby, and wound up having throat surgery rather than racing in the Kentucky Derby. His next race, a dull fourth in the Easy Goer at Belmont, was only a small step back in the right direction, but Cupid got back on track at Indiana Grand, and might have run even better Saturday.

“He was actually doing better coming into this race than the last one,” Baffert said. “He’s starting to fill out. His body’s getting stronger. Mentally, he’s getting better. He’s an improving horse. That throat issue, we were lucky we jumped on that right away.”

Mo Tom and Economic Model were scratched from the race, and Economic Model looked like one of two entrants that might run early with Cupid. The other was No Distortion, and when he failed to show any early speed, Cupid was off to the races. Clear of his rivals, Bejarano steered right, sacrificing ground loss to get on the better part of the surface. Cupid went a quarter-mile in 23.57, a half in 47.97, three-quarters in 1:11.69, and turning for home wound up closer to the outside fence than the inner rail.

“We told Bejarano to stay off the fence, but man,” Baffert said. “The horse got a little lost way out there in the stretch.”

Indeed, Cupid ($5) for a brief moment appeared to be wandering, but Bejarano kept him to his task, and Cupid was much the best. He ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.54 while giving Baffert his third win in the West Virginia Derby. Whateverybodywants, a 74-1 shot, tracked the pace while racing fairly close to the rail and finished second, two lengths in front of Name Changer. Anaximandros was fourth, and Suddenbreakingnews, the 2-1 second choice, came from a distant last to finish a non-threatening fifth, two lengths ahead of third-choice Forevamo.

Cupid, bred by JKG Thoroughbreds, is by Tapit and out of the Beau Genius mare Pretty ‘n Smart. His career record now stands at 8-4-1-0. Baffert said the logical next stop for Cupid would be the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby in September at Parx Racing.

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