Updated on 08/06/2014 9:20AM

Tapiture by a nose in West Virginia Derby

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Coady Photography
Tapiture (left), with Rosie Napravnik aboard, beats Candy Boy by a nose in the West Virginia Derby on Saturday.

Tapiture ran into traffic problems in upper stretch of the Grade 2 West Virginia Derby but jockey Rosie Napravnik acted decisively to get him into the clear and Tapiture regained his momentum to nail Candy Boy by a nose in the $750,000 race.

The victory was trainer Steve Asmussen’s fifth in the West Virginia Derby since 2005, extending his record number of wins in the race. Asmussen and Napravnik won three races together at Mountaineer on Saturday.

As expected, Vicar’s In Trouble, front-running winner of this spring’s Louisiana Derby, went to the lead, setting a controlled pace of 23.39 and 47.23 seconds while being stalked by For Goodness Sake. Tapiture, who had to steady briefly on the clubhouse turn, and Candy Boy both moved to contending positions early on the backstretch, with Tapiture along the inside and Candy Boy sitting cool on the outside under Corey Nakatani.

Vicar’s In Trouble resisted when challenged by Candy Boy nearing the stretch while Tapiture held his position down along the inside. In the upper stretch, Candy Boy moved to the lead outside Vicar’s In Trouble and looked like he would go on to win. At that point, Napravnik snatched up Tapiture out of tight quarters along the rail and swung him outside the two leaders. Tapiture never stopped fighting and got up in the final stride by a desperate nose.

It was two lengths from Candy Boy to Vicar’s In Trouble in third and another five lengths back to Classic Giacnroll in fourth. For Goodness Sake tired to fifth.

“Vicar's in Trouble was on the lead, and I was worried about Candy Boy getting the jump on me,” Napravnik said. “The two of them had me blocked for a little bit. And, earlier in the race, [Tapiture] lost a shoe. So I would say this race was all about the quality of the horse."

Tapiture completed the 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.66 after a six-furlong split of 1:11.66 and a mile in 1:37.60. The favorite for most of the wagering, Tapiture’s odds rose late and he paid $5.60 as second choice behind Candy Boy, whose odds dipped to 8-5.

The West Virginia Derby is Tapiture’s biggest career win and fourth stakes victory. He won the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs while still a maiden last November, the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park in February, and the Grade 3 Matt Winn at Churchill in June.

Asmussen has determined that Tapiture needs time between starts to perform at his best. Tapiture had six weeks between the Kentucky Derby and the Matt Winn and seven weeks between the Winn and the West Virginia Derby.

“The way he is performing is indicative that he is responding to the added time between races,” Asmussen said via telephone after the race. “The Pennsylvania Derby on September 20 would seem to fit the pattern well.”

This was the second West Virginia Derby win for Tapiture’s owner-breeder Ron Winchell. He and Asmussen teamed up to win the 2007 West Virginia Derby with Zanjero.

“In the stretch I didn't think there was any possibility I could get there,” Winchell said. “I was absolutely holding my breath."

In addition to Tapiture and Zanjero, Asmussen has won the West Virginia Derby with Macho Macho (2012), Soul Warrior (2009), and Real Dandy (2005). Asmussen said his assistant trainer, Darren Fleming, had traveled to Mountaineer and overseen all five West Virginia Derby winners for him.

While disappointed by the results of the photo finish, trainer John Sadler was pleased with Candy Boy’s performance. Candy Boy had shipped to Mountaineer from Southern California earlier in the week.

“I was hoping the photo would turn out the other way around, but my horse ran very well,” Sadler said.