Looking for his first win in 18 months, Funny Cide gave a gritty effort in Saturday's $151,900 Excelsior Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. III) but couldn't hold off the surging West Virginia, who registered a mild surprise on the Aqueduct main track.
After taking the lead shortly after the start of the 1 1/8-mile Excelsior, Funny Cide, ridden by Richard Migliore, squirted away from his pace rival Liquor Cabinet on the final turn. But the 2003 Kentucky Derby/Preakness (both gr. I) winner labored in the stretch as West Virginia and Norberto Arroyo Jr. took the lead. Funny Cide fought back along the inside but West Virgina, a 5-year-old New York-bred Tomorrows Cat horse, took command in the final strides to win by 1 3/4 lengths. The final time was 1:48 1/5.
"He ran better today than any other time I've ridden him," said Arroyo, who rode West Virginia to back-to-back narrow runner-up finishes at Aqueduct late last year. "The pace was quick, which was good for us. Sometimes, when he gets to the last horse, he likes to wait. But today, he just went right by."
Todd Pletcher trains the 7-1 underdog who ran fifth in the Donn Handicap (gr. I) at Gulfstream Park in his last start Feb. 4. The dark bay snapped a five-race losing streak since winning the Iselin Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. III) at Monmouth in August. Earning $67,140 for the victory, the Donald and Mary Zuckerman homebred improved his record to 7-5-1 in 22 starts while banking $749,846.
West Virginia, who won for the third time in five starts on the Aqueduct main track, paid $17.40, $8.30, and $4.70.
Funny Cide, who set a solid pace of :23 2/5, :46 1/5 and 1:10 3/5, returned $6.50 and $3.60 as he sustained his eighth consecutive loss since capturing the 2004 Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I). He finished 1 1/4 lengths in front of 5-2 favorite Colita, ridden by Mike Luzzi to a $3.10 show payoff.
"He ran a fantastic race," Migliore said of Funny Cide. "Blood and guts all the way to the wire. He's a fantastic racehorse. I wasn't looking for the lead, but my horse was keen and I didn't want to get into a fight with him. When he got alone, he idled better and when company joined him, he fought on again. It was a very game performance."
The Irish-bred Liquor Cabinet finished fourth, followed by Evening Attire, Watchmon, Your Bluffing, Go Now, and Infinite Glory.