08/28/2005 11:00PM

Iselin's top pair outrun their odds

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Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO
West Virginia, and jockey Jose Velez, Jr., win the Grade 3 $250,000 Philip H. Iselin Breeders' Cup Handicap at Monmouth Park on Sunday.

OCEANPORT, N.J. - West Virginia and Zoffinger both outran expectations Sunday in the Grade 3, $250,000 at Monmouth Park.

The Iselin victory was a significant step for the New York-bred West Virginia. The 5-year-old Zoffinger, trained by John Forbes, ran the race of his life to rally for second at 65-1.

West Virginia's stablemate Purge got most of the attention and was the favorite at 6-5. West Virginia was a question mark, a winner of more than $500,000, accumulated mostly in statebred races.

West Virginia rallied for second in his previous race, the Evan Shipman Handicap for New York-breds at Belmont Park, and did not inspire great confidence among the bettors, who dismissed him at 16-1 after noting a winless record in four tries against open company.

"He was really on his toes in the paddock today," said trainer Todd Pletcher. "You just knew that he was feeling good. He ran a great race last time in New York and I think the extra eighth of a mile here really helped him."

Pletcher will point West Virginia toward the $250,000 Empire Classic for New York-breds on Oct. 22 at Belmont. West Virginia missed by a head in that race last year.

Pletcher said West Virginia might run again before the Empire Classic.

At 17 hands, Zoffinger is a huge horse with a grinding style that rarely carries him to victory. He was third in last year's Iselin, 32 lengths behind Ghostzapper, and remains eligible for second-level allowance races.

"We knew he was doing awfully good after his last race," said assistant trainer Pat McBurney. "We had targeted this race. He surprised us a little. We knew he would run a good race but would his good race be good enough?"

McBurney wasn't certain where Zoffinger will go next, but the Grade 2, $500,000 Meadowlands Breeders' Cup Stakes on Oct. 7 is a possibility.

Keeneland Kat handled with care

Kelly Breen has taken the cautious route with Keeneland Kat.

Monmouth's leading trainer, Breen said he hopes that approach pays off Saturday in the $100,000 Sorority Stakes, a six-furlong race that is the track's top event for 2-year-old fillies.

Keeneland Kat looked great in her lone start on July 23. Never far off the pace, she pulled away to a 6 3/4-length victory.

She could have run in the Colleen Stakes, Monmouth's Sorority prep, but Breen opted to wait for this spot.

"We're just trying to give her the right amount of time between races," Breen said. "We're trying to be patient. She has pretty much done all that I asked. She is fresh and ready."

Based on how she runs Saturday, Keeneland Kat will largely determine her future course.

"We're going to let her tell us where the next races are," Breen said. "If she runs and wins impressively, then the sky is the limit."

Other likely Sorority runners include Ten Halos, second in the Colleen; Winning Toast, fifth in the Colleen as the 8-5 favorite; and Wild Gams.

American Proud off career top

American Proud appears headed in the right direction in Wednesday's $44,000 optional claiming feature.

Owner-trainer Eddie Broome entered the 5-year-old American Proud for the $45,000 claiming price following the horse's career-best Beyer Speed Figure performance. American Proud rallied for third on Aug. 3 to earn a 98 Beyer.

This will be the third start of his form cycle - often a potent handicapping angle - following a freshening after two races at Gulfstream Park.

* Monmouth added the $55,000 Goldfinch Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles on the turf to the schedule for Saturday. Free nominations close Wednesday.