V. I. P. Ticket
V. I. P. Ticket was much the best in the A Huevo Stakes. Photo by Coady Photography.

Heading into the latest renewal of the $50,000 A Huevo Stakes for West Virginia-bred older runners Friday night, offered for the third time after twice being postponed, there were plenty of questions surrounding the key contenders for the nine-furlong affair.

The biggest of those involved the morning line favorite, Runnin’toluvya, whose previous performance had onlookers baffled.

Friday night’s edition of the A Huevo Stakes included the last three winners of the West Virginia Breeders Classic, Awsome Faith, Castle Bound and Runnin’toluvya. Of the three, the focus was clearly on Runnin’toluvya, the talented Tim Grams trainee whose past two years provided a roller coaster for his connections: Hero of the 2018 edition of the WVBC Classic, Runnin’toluvya had also captured the Grade 2, $1 million Charles Town Classic in April of 2019 before suffering a complete reversal of fortunes.

This past spring, Runnin’toluvya ended a prolonged drought back capturing a two-turn allowance race on the final night of live racing before the first pandemic-induced shutdown but then finished fifth in the $50,000 Confucius Say Stakes. Three months later, however, he was a respectable third in the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic and followed that with a win in the $50,000 Frank Gall Memorial in a race that appeared to stamp his return to form.

Heading into the Breeders’ Classic, Runnin’toluvya was viewed as a mortal lock to redeem himself and was again made the 2-5 favorite in the nine-furlong affair. But though he was better behaved this time around, for the second straight year the Grams trainee simply failed to fire his best shot and he finished a nondescript sixth as Awsome Faith sprang a 37-1 surprise for trainer Scott Allen with 17-1 outsider Buff’s Eye View a close second for trainer David Walters, with Classic fixture North Atlantic a solid third and Hero’s Man fourth.

On Friday night, a full month after the race was originally scheduled and two months after eight of the nine entered clashed in the WV Breeders’ Classic, Runnin’toluvya was again made the solid favorite despite the presence of North Atlantic, whose lone stakes tally occurred in this event three years earlier, Hero’s Man, Awsome Faith and Castle Bound. Runnin’toluvya was the 3-2 choice, followed by V.I.P. Ticket at 3-1 and North Atlantic at 9-2. Both Awsome Faith and Castle Bound were again deemed genuine outsiders. 

When the gates opened in the latest edition of the A Huevo Stakes, Opera Nite grabbed the early advantage with Runnin’toluvya and Hero’s Man his nearest pursuers through the first three calls. But none of them would be around for the serious running late.

Runnin’toluvya would fade to fourth, prompting Grams to concede later the horse would need a vacation. After biding their time early, V.I.P. Ticket and North Atlantic both launched their bids entering the far turn, and both went by the leaders fairly easily. V.I.P. Ticket drew away in the final furlong to prevail by four lengths as the second choice while stopping the timer in 1:53.48 for the nine furlongs.

A Maryland-bred four-year-old son of Windsor Castle trained by Jeremiah O’Dwyer for owner A.R.D. Racing Stable, V.I.P. Ticket notched his second win from nine starts this year and now sports a solid 6-3-10 slate and nearly $220,000 banked from 25 career outings.

He also impressed jockey Gerald Almodovar.

“He’s actually a very easy horse to ride,” Almodovar said. “He just pulled me into the race down the backside. I wanted to stay alongside Bocachica [on North Atlantic] because he is a good judge of pace and he knew they were going quick early. When he moved, I wanted to go with him. But leaving the quarter pole I knew my horse was the winner. Jerry couldn’t be here tonight, but he told me he would be good. He told me he would pull me into it, and he did and he did it easily.”

North Atlantic, the runner-up trained by Jeff Runco, has a single stakes win from 48 career starts — in this event in 2017. But he possess a fairly remarkable ledger at the nine-furlong distance: 12 career starts and 12 career in-the-money finishes, including four victories.

Saturday night’s feature is the $50,000 My Sister Pearl Stakes and the full field will include three distaffers who scored on WVBC night – Bridging the Gap, Star Of Night, and She Figures. Bridging the Gap won the $100,000 Cavada Stakes for owner-trainer John McKee, while Star Of Night won the WV Tourism Office BC for trainer Jeff Runco and owner David Raim. She Figures took the Distaff.