12/12/2003 12:00AM

West Virginia finds a softer spot


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Two weeks after finishing a well-beaten third in the Grade 2 Remsen, West Virginia finds a better spot to earn the second stakes win of his career in Sunday's $75,000-added Damon Runyon at Aqueduct.

West Virginia will be favored among 10 New York-bred 2-year-olds entered in the 1 1/16-mile Damon Runyon.

West Virginia and Rb's Glitter are the only stakes winners in the field.

West Virginia won his second start in a statebred maiden race at Belmont Park on Oct. 18. He controlled the pace in the mile race and powered away to an 11 1/2-length win. West Virginia cut back to six furlongs in a division of the New York Stallion Stakes at Aqueduct on Nov. 9 and won by two lengths.

Twenty days after the Stallion Stakes, West Virginia ran in the 1 1/8-mile Remsen and finished third after setting the pace. He was beaten 14 1/2 lengths by the winner, Read the Footnotes.

Seth Benzel, an assistant to West Virginia's trainer, Todd Pletcher, said the colt gave a good account of himself in the Remsen, his first start around two turns.

"Running back [Sunday] in a statebred race is a good angle," Benzel said. "He's definitely a horse with a prominent stride and he covers a lot of ground efficiently. He's very relaxed in doing that, and that will help him stretching out."

Shaun Bridgmohan rides West Virginia, who has early speed but has a tough post (9) for the short run into the first turn.

None of the horses in the Damon Runyon has won a dirt race around two turns, and most have only sprint experience.

Speedjama stalked the pace and was up in time to win a six-furlong maiden race by a half-length as a heavy favorite in his last start. Speedjama should appreciate the distance increase and is in sharp form, as evidenced by a bullet five-furlong work in 1:00.47 on Tuesday at Belmont. He gets blinkers on and drew the outside post.

An interesting horse is Gentleman Player, who faces New York-breds for the first time after two starts in California. Gentleman Player won a $40,000 maiden claimer at Santa Anita on Oct. 31 and was claimed out of his next start for $62,500 by owner Michael Gill. His Beyer Speed Figures of 86 and 73 are better than many in the field.

Gates Avenue looked good winning a seven-furlong maiden race on Nov. 27 for trainer Dave Donk, who also entered Kiss an Optimist.