07/22/2005 12:00AM

West Virginia set for best


ELMONT, N.Y. - West Virginia has taken an unorthodox route to get to Sunday's $100,000 Evan Shipman Stakes, but at least he got here. Now, his connections believe he could be ready to put forth a show-stopping performance on closing day at the Belmont summer meet.

The Evan Shipman, a 1 1/16-mile dirt race restricted to New York-breds, is the featured event on the closing-day card. Racing moves to Saratoga for six weeks beginning Wednesday.

Last year, won the Albany for 3-year-old New York-breds at Saratoga and was beaten a head in the Empire Classic by Spite the Devil. In two starts this year, however, West Virginia finished a well-beaten fourth in a Delaware Park allowance going a mile and last in a six-furlong handicap for New York-breds here. Pletcher said that schedule wasn't by design, but feels those races served their purpose.

"We did it backwards, going long and then short, but we needed to get a race into him before this, so I felt like at least we'd do that," Pletcher said. "He ran well here in the Empire Classic last year, and he ran well at Saratoga. This is his third race off a layoff, and it's a better distance for him. He should be sitting on a good race."

West Virginia's most recent work may have signified his readiness. On Tuesday, West Virginia drilled five furlongs in 59.43 seconds, the fastest of 25 works at the distance.

West Virginia, who breaks from post 4 under John Velazquez, is the 118-pound co-highweight with along with Chowder's First, who breaks from the rail under Javier Castellano.

has finished behind West Virginia in three of the four occasions they met last year. Chowder's First did beat West Virginia by a neck in last year's New York Stallion Stakes at Saratoga.

Chowder's First began his 4-year-old campaign with a solid victory in the Kings Point Handicap on closing day at Aqueduct. That performance and a subsequent solid work pattern prompted trainer Phil Serpe to try Chowder's First in the Grade 2 Brooklyn. In addition to being overmatched, Chowder's First didn't have a great trip and finished last.

Chowder's First took advantage of an early duel between Yankee Mon and Rogue Agent to win the Kings Point. are the likely speed horses again in the Shipman.