WVBC: Seeking clarity in 2yo stakes

Last month’s final two stakes preps for two-year-olds for this Saturday’s West Virginia Breeders’ Classics both provided genuine upsets, leaving very much unresolved the question of who the best local juveniles are. So this weekend’s latest editions of the Vincent Moscarelli Memorial and Triple Crown Nutrition Breeders’ Classics for state-bred boys and girls, respectively, should finally bring some clarity to a cloudy juvenile picture.

Paymengold was 23-1 when he scored in the Henry Mercer Memorial, while Lightnin Runner won the Rachel’s Turn Stakes at 12-1. But only Paymengold will be on hand Saturday night for the West Virginia Breeders’ Classics. Lightnin Runner is not competing in the Triple Crown Nutrition.

Paymengold, a juvenile son of Golden Lad out of the Not For Love mare Loves to Glance is a Dewayne Johnson production: he bred, owns, and trains the gelding. Paymengold will seek his second straight stakes tally in the Moscarelli on Saturday night.

“I’m just one of the little guys up here,” Johnson said. “I don’t have 100 horses, so I can’t send out two, three at a time to see what I have. I just have to take my time with him. There’s more than one way to skin a cat. He’s been getting some long gallops since his last race. I think he’s going to like the two turns and added distance. He’s got speed, but I think he’s definitely going to be better stretching out a little this weekend. He’s beaten most of the other ones in there except [Anthony] Farrior’s horse [Honeyquist], who won easily first time out.”

Paymengold is listed at 6-1 in the morning line for Johnson with Fredy Peltroche back aboard off his upset score in the Mercer. Honeyquist has been installed as the 4-5 favorite for trainer Anthony Farrior with Maryland regular Jevian Toledo aboard in his stakes debut and first attempt at two turns. A juvenile son of Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, Honeyquist prevailed against maiden special weight foes by over five lengths in his career debut on September 24, getting the 4 1/2 furlongs in 52.55 as the 8-5 favorite.

“We kind of rushed him to get him ready for his first start,” Farrior said of Honeyquist, who was bred by Jim Miller and then sold for $170,000 as a short yearling. “But he’s a very smart horse. He got his gate card in 10 days. He only had four works before his debut and he ran like a real good horse. Jevian had been working him for me at Laurel and he kept telling me he was not just an ordinary West Virginia-bred. If he goes out there and does his thing, I think he’s going to be tough to beat.”

Paymengold won the Henry Mercer Memorial Stakes in an upset. Photo by Coady Photography.

Not surprisingly, trainer Jeff Runco, who saddled the winners of both two-year-old stakes last fall en route to winning seven of the nine events on WVBC night, will be well represented in the Moscarelli. Runco will send out Pinnacle Reef, a handy winner going two turns last out with regular pilot Arnaldo Bocachica aboard, along with Xacellent Start, who rallied for the place spot in the Mercer behind Paymengold last out and will try two turns for the first time.

Pinnacle Reef is the only runner here with a two-turn victory on his resume. Xcellent Start’s debut saw him rally from well off the pace to win going 4 ½ furlongs; he’ll get blinkers on for this start.

“They’re both doing great,” Runco said. “Pinnacle Reef had some bad luck in each of his first two starts, but he ran well stretching out last time. I think he’s going to run well in there. Xcellent Start has closed nicely in each of his two races going 4 1/2 [furlongs], so I think the added distance will help him. On paper, Farrior’s horse looks like the one to beat because he got a big number for winning first time out. But I think both of my horses are going to do well in there.”

While Lightnin Runner will not be on hand for the Triple Crown Nutrition Stakes, both Farrior and Runco certainly will be represented in the two-turn stake for juvenile fillies. Farrior will saddle Strong Willed and Marz Express for the race, while Runco counters with Sail On Breeze and Laughintothebank.

Strong Willed finished a solid second to Lightnin Runner in the Rachel’s Turn, while Sail On Breeze faded to third as the odds-on choice after being pressed early by Strong Willed. Laughintothebank, a homebred for Huntertown Farm, was away awkwardly and well off the early pace before rallying for third in a sneaky-good debut.

“Strong Willed ran a very good race in the stakes up here last time,” Farrior said. “I think she’s going to be even better stretching out. Marz Express broke her maiden up here last out [at 30-1] after we tried her on the grass at Colonial the start before. I always thought she would be better on dirt, so we came back here for that race. i like my chances in both the two-year-old races up here on Saturday night.”

“My filly really didn’t like being pressed early going 4 1/2,” Runco said of Sail On Breeze. “We’ve added blinkers to her since that race and she worked great the other morning with blinkers on for the first time. I think she’ll be a lot better going longer. It will give her a little more time to relax early. Both of the two-year-old races… look really wide open to me.”