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Cupid is the One to Beat


Bill Mooney


Wed, Aug 3, 2016

      Even in the most balanced of stakes fields, there is always a horse viewed as the one to beat. That status in Saturday’s 47th running of the Grade 2, $750,000 West Virginia Derby belongs to Cupid, the 3-1 morning line favorite for the 1 1/8-mile event at Mountaineer Casino Racetrack & Resort.
     While Cupid’s early odds are not prohibitive, they do give a nod to his accomplishments to date. Cupid has made seven career starts, from which he has gained a trio of victories along with a second- place finish. 
     He is already a multiple Grade 2 winner, having registered front-running scores in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park on March 19 and the Indiana Derby at Indiana Grand Race Course in his most recent effort on July 16.
     Cupid’s career purse earnings total $880,553, the highest for any horse in the year’s West Virginia Derby field. He worked a sharp half-mile in :47 at his Southern California home base, Del Mar, this past Monday, and he had brief gallops under exercise rise Luke Patton on both Wednesday and Thursday of this week at Mountaineer.
      The colt’s trainer, Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, has done exceptionally well with prior West Virginia Derby contenders. Baffert won back-to-back editions of the race in 2010-11 with Concord Point and Prayer for Relief. 
     Back in 1999, Baffert sent out American Spirit to finish second in the race. The only time one of his horses finished unplaced in Mountaineer’s feature event occurred in 2006, when Wanna Runner came in sixth.  
     Rafael Bejarano will ride Cupid. The now 34-year-old native of Peru booted Sir Shackleton to a West Virginia Derby score in 2004, and was also was aboard Prayer for Relief for his trip to the Mountaineer’s winner’s circle. The West Virginia Derby was accorded graded recognition in 2002, and in the ensuing years only two jockeys have won the race twice – Bejarano and Mark Guidry.
     A three-member partnership comprised of Michael B. Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier, and Derrick Smith owns Cupid. All are associates of Coolmore Stud, which is headquartered in County Tipperary, Ireland, has divisions in the U.S. and Australia as well, and is one of the most prominent racing/breeding operations on the globe. 
     Bred in Kentucky, Cupid is a son of Tapit, who has been North America’s leading sire (in regards to progeny earnings) the past three years. Tapit’s impact on the West Virginia Derby is already notable, for his foal crops further include Concord Point, along with the 2014 West Virginia Derby winner Tapiture.
     Cupid was a consignee in Book One of the 2014 Keeneland September Sale – a circumstance that, as the turf writer Mike Curry has noted, is “generally reserved for only yearlings that boast both impeccable physical conformation and outstanding pedigrees.”  
     Pretty ‘n Smart, the dam of Cupid, was a maiden and allowance winner and Grade 3-placed in seven career starts. His lineage completes a Northern Dancer cross in Cupid’s pedigree, which also has a Mr. Prospector cross on the topside and a Bold Ruler cross on the bottom – factors that assuredly influenced the $900,000 closing bid that Cupid drew at auction.     
     It took Cupid three tries to break his maiden, which he did by 5 ¼ lengths on February 7 of this year at Santa Anita. He is not invulnerable. As the odds-on wagering choice in the $150,000 Easy Goer Stakes at Belmont Park on June 11, Cupid finished unplaced and well to the rear of the victorious Economic Model, who is also a member of the West Virginia Derby field.
     Cupid will exit the number one post on Saturday, and the inside rail position has bogged down many a Mountaineer runner the past few months – which is why the locally-based jockeys, time and again, have taken their mounts wide while rounding the turns. 
     Bejarano will have to guide Cupid to the outside in the early going, not an insignificant task in a nine-furlong race contested on a one-mile oval. The run from the starting gate to the first turn is short, and the riders of other horses will have opportunities aplenty to keep Cupid boxed in. 
     But, then, Cupid is a Baffert trainee. And, wherever they go, whenever they race, Baffert trainees tend to be the ones to beat. Cupid fits that category. Enough said.
     Mountaineer Notes: The Racetrack Chaplaincy will be selling T-Shirts, hats, and other items celebrating the West Virginia Derby on Saturday at a booth just inside the main grandstand entrance. The Chaplaincy’s Derby Day fare is always reasonably-priced and of excellent quality . . . the field for Saturday’s $100,000 West Virginia House of Delegates Speakers Cup includes the French-bred Pleuven winner of the Grade 2 Wise Dan Stakes at Churchill Downs on June 18, and Bullards Alley, winner of Churchill’s Grade 3 Louisville Handicap on May 21.    


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