04/01/2006 12:00AM

West Virginia takes Excelsior


He was the "other" New York-bred and the longer price of the two horses trainer Todd Pletcher entered in Saturday's Grade 3 Excelsior Breeders' Cup Handicap at Aqueduct. But in the end, West Virginia was the standout victor of the $151,900 , turning back Funny Cide and Colita in the process.

Under Norberto Arroyo Jr., West Virginia rallied from fifth position with a huge move leaving the three-furlong pole, going on to a 1 3/4-length victory in the Excelsior before 4,528 at Aqueduct. Funny Cide, the New York-bred gelding who won dual classics in 2003, set the pace under Richard Migliore and fought back to be second after switching to his wrong lead in the stretch. Colita, the 5-2 favorite despite his 0-for-9 mark in stakes, finished third for Pletcher.

It was the seventh victory in 22 lifetime starts for West Virginia, a son of Tomorrows Cat owned and bred by Donald and Mary Zuckerman. Unfortunately for the Zuckermans, West Virginia was only eligible for the winner's share of half the purse because the horse is not nominated to the Breeders' Cup. West Virginia earned $67,140 to push his career earnings to $749,846.

Pletcher, speaking from Gulfstream Park, said he only ran West Virginia in the Excelsior because of the horse's solid record over Aqueduct's main track and because he didn't want to run him against Bandini, who won Saturday's Skip Away Handicap at Gulfstream.

"He ran big," Pletcher said of West Virginia. "He got a perfect trip. Sometimes he's gotten there and hung a little bit. It was nice to see him go by those horses."

West Virginia covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:46.28 and returned $17.40.

"He ran better today than any other time I've ridden him," Arroyo said.

Barclay Tagg, the trainer of Funny Cide, watched the race from Gulfstream Park, and seemed pleased with the gelding's effort. "At least he finally did some running," Tagg said.

Evening Attire again broke slowly, but not as poorly as in his three most recent races. Still, he could do no better than fifth.

- additional reporting by Mike Welsch