08/02/2012 1:26PM

Mountaineer: Seruni's versatility may give him an edge in West Virginia Governor’s Handicap

Barbara D. Livingston
Tapizar has not raced since March.

CHESTER, W.Va. – At first glance, Seruni might look like a turf specialist. Twelve of his 18 career races have been on grass, including all five this year. But horseplayers may want to take a little closer look, said Phil Oliver, trainer of the 5-year-old gelding.

[WEST VIRGINIA DERBY: Get PPs and watch Saturday’s full card live]

“I think he might actually be a little better on dirt,” said Oliver, who will send Seruni from his Keeneland base to be one of the top contenders Saturday in the $200,000 West Virginia Governor’s Handicap, the richest undercard race on the West Virginia Derby program. “I know it probably doesn’t look like it, but he is very capable on dirt. It’s just worked out that most of our opportunities have been on the grass so far.”

Seruni will break from post 6 and be ridden by Jon Court. He is one of nine older horses in the Governor’s, a 1 1/16-mile-race that figures to have Tapizar (post 1, Corey Nakatani) as the favorite. Seruni comes off a string of solid efforts on the Churchill turf, but it was his lone try over the Mountaineer dirt last summer that gives Oliver hope in regard to the Governor’s.

“He won pretty easy,” he said, referring to a 4 3/4-length triumph under Court in the Labor Day Handicap. “He’s a versatile horse, and his running style” – close to the pace – “should help him as well.”

Tapizar, trained by Steve Asmussen, will be making his first start since finishing second as the favorite to Alternation in the March 10 Razorback at Oaklawn Park. The colt has shown flashes of brilliance, most notably in January when he captured the Grade 2 San Fernando at Santa Anita by 3 1/2 lengths under Nakatani.

“We’ve just been trying to find the right spot to bring him back in,” said Asmussen. “He rapped himself pretty good before the Oaklawn Handicap, and he’s a big ol’ horse that we’ve just taken our time with. Hopefully this will be a stepping-stone to some bigger races, although this isn’t a prep for an exact race. I wish we hadn’t drawn the rail, but that’s the way it goes.”

Fringe players in the 16th running of the Governor’s, which directly precedes the West Virginia Derby as the seventh of nine races, include Populist Politics, Parody, and Headache. As of Thursday, several more were iffy to even run because of varying circumstances, those being Chilled, Colizeo, and Ponzi Scheme.