08/09/2003 12:00AM

Soto stays perfect in W.Va. Derby


Soto remained unbeaten through five starts by winning a stirring stretch duel with favored Dynever in the Grade 3, $600,000 West Virginia Derby on Saturday at Mountaineer Park. Soto, a 3-year-old colt by Dehere trained by Michael Dickinson, completed the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:46.29, establishing a track record.

Soto pressed the pace set by Cat Singer, took over on the front end, then battled throughout the stretch with Dynever and prevailed by a neck. Dynever actually held a head lead at the stretch call, but Soto battled back along the inside for the victory. Colita finished third, another 5 1/4 lengths back.

The race was restricted to 3-year-olds, and both Soto and Dynever likely improved their status in the division in what was a strongly run race. Soto was making just his second start since winning the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs last November, and he had run only six furlongs in his seasonal debut. Dynever, who raced close to the pace before making a strong move on the turn, was making his first start since finishing fourth in the Belmont Stakes.

Soto returned $6.40 and was ridden by Ramon Dominguez. The race was run under rainy conditions, but over a fast track.

* Earlier at Mountaineer, Be Like Mike ($6.80) and jockey Jorge Chavez led throughout the $100,000 West Virginia Governor's Handicap. Be Like Mike finished 1 1/4 lengths ahead of M B Sea and completed the 1 1/16-mile distance in a track-record time of 1:41.15. The favored Docent finished third.