TORONTO, May 24 – Riding the River, Canada’s champion turf male of 2012, returns to action in Sunday’s Grade 2 $200,000 Connaught Cup Stakes, at Woodbine.
Riding the River, trained by Dave Cotey for Dominion Bloodstock, HGHR Inc. & Linmac Farm, posted a memorable 2012 season winning two of six starts topped by Grade 2 scores in the King Edward and Nijinsky Stakes. The gritty bay also finished a closing second, after a troubled trip, in the Grade 2 Play the King Stakes won by Big Band Sound.
Cotey was thrilled to see his stable star honoured at the Sovereign Awards, held on the eve of the 2013 campaign at Woodbine.
"It’s a real honour, of course. I think the little horse deserved it. He tries his heart out," said Cotey.
Riding the River certainly has a flair for the dramatic winning both 2012 starts with weaving stretch runs under regular rider Todd Kabel.
Cotey admits the gelding’s racing style is not for the faint of heart.
"He always comes from out of it," grinned Cotey. "He seems to relax and make that one big move and most times finds trouble doing it. I imagine he’ll run the same way on Sunday."
In the Nijinsky score, Riding the River, was blocked at the quarter pole and again when trying to split Imagining and Pender Harbour, before finding an opening inside en route to a narrow neck score.
"I’ve never seen a horse find so much trobule in every race and still manage to come out on top," said Cotey. "He got shut off twice (in the Nijinsky) and Todd managed to find a little opening and away they went. If there’s a hole, he’ll go through it for you, that’s for sure."
Riding the River completed his season by rallying from last to fourth in the Grade 1 Ricoh Woodbine Mile, won by U.S Horse of the Year, Wise Dan.
The now seven-year-old champion has worked steadily on the Woodbine ‘Poly’ towards his seasonal debut in the seven furlong Connaught Cup, to be raced over his favourite surface, Woodbine’s E.P. Taylor Turf Course.
On May 18, Riding the River posted a five-panel breeze in 1:01 flat, ranked 11th of 77 efforts at the distance on the day, in his final Connaught Cup prep.
"Todd knows him well and has worked him three or four times," said Cotey. "So far this year, he’s in a lot better order than he was last year. I don’t know if he’s fit enough to win right off the bat, but we expect him to do well. I know I’ll get a good ride from Todd, it’s just a matter of whether he’s fit enough."
A stout 10-horse field includes returning Connaught Cup champ Something Extra; a Bear Stables Ltd. duo of Grade 3 Kennedy Road winner Bear Tough Tiger and runner-up Bear No Joke; as well as a pair of seasoned turf shippers from Saratoga for trainer Michelle Nihei, Artest and Upgrade.
Something Extra boasts a perfect in-the-money record of 1-2-1 in four Woodbine turf starts for trainer Gail Cox.
The five-year-old Indian Charlie gelding will be making his third start off the layoff after two sharp second-place finishes to start his 2013 season in the Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint and a heartbreaking nose defeat to Havelock in the Grade 3 Shakertown, at Keeneland.
Bear Tough Tiger, trained by Reade Baker for Bear Stables Ltd., won five of eight starts in 2012 and nearly pulled off the upset when a stubborn third in the grassy Grade 1 Nearctic, over a ‘good’ Woodbine turf. The five-year-old son of Roar of the Tiger finished second to champion sprinter Essence Hit Man in the Jacques Cartier Stakes in his 2013 debut, on April 27.
Bear No Joke, a five-year-old son of It’s No Joke, surprised punters by completing the Kennedy Road exactor at odds of 28-1. The grey won his only turf start, an optional claiming sprint last October, on the front end over classy champion Fatal Bullet.
Nihei, a Calgary native training in the U.S., has named Luis Contreras aboard both her entrants who are owned by Dennis Narlinger.
Upgrade, a six-year-old son of Saint Liam, has made a good living on the lawn with a record of 5-8-3 in 22 attempts. The bay gelding won the Grade 3 Jaipur over a firm Belmont turf in June, completing his season with a ninth-place run in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, which was marred by a slow start.
Last time out, Upgrade finished a rallying third in the Jacques Cartier.
Artest, a four-year-old son of Hard Spun, raced exclusively on the grass in seven 2012 starts winning the $100,000 Quick Call Stakes in July at Saratoga. The chestnut colt made his seasonal debut on April 26 over the Keeneland synthetic finishing third in an optional claiming sprint under Preakness-winning rider Gary Stevens.
Valentino Beauty, Lockout, Artic Fern and Hotep complete a classy field.
Sunday’s undercard is highlighted by the $150,000 Marine Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile ‘Poly’ tilt for three-year-olds.
The race, which features a pair of Queen’s Plate hopefuls in Up With the Birds and Silent Admirer, has drawn a heady field that includes Todd Pletcher’s Grade 3 Lexington champ, Winning Cause.
Up With the Birds, trained by Malcolm Pierce, stepped into the spotlight with a rousing score in the Coronation Futurity.
The Sam-Son Farms homebred continued his good form over the winter taking the Black Gold Stakes in March, at Fair Grounds. In April, Up With the Birds impressed with a second-place run in the Grade 3 Transylvania Stakes, at Keeneland. Eurico Rosa da Silva will ride.
Silent Admirer, trained by Reade Baker for Ghostzapper Racing Limited Partnership, debuted impressively in December with a five-length maiden allowance score under Emma-Jayne Wilson. The Silent Name colt wintered in Florida at Palm Meadows and finished a solid second in his three-year-old debut to well regarded County Lineman. Wilson retains the mount.
Winning Cause, a chestnut son of Giant’s Causeway owned by Alto Racing LLC, is perfect in three synthetic starts at Keeneland. Last time out, the Pletcher trainee launched a four-wide run, under Julien Leparoux, to score a first added-money win. Leparoux ships in to ride.
Ghost Hunter, Drenched and Five Iron complete the six-horse field.
The Marine is carded as Race 4, in advance of the Connaught Cup which is slated as Race 8 on Sunday’s 10-race card. First post time is 1 p.m. Fans can watch and wager on the card via HorsePlayer Interactive.
FIELD FOR THE CONNAUGHT CUP
POST / HORSE / JOCKEY / TRAINER
1 / Valentino Beauty / Jim McAleney / Barb Minshall
2 / Bear No Joke / Justin Stein / Reade Baker
3 / Artest / Luis Contreras / Michelle Nihei
4 / Lockout / Gary Boulanger / Mark Casse
5 / Something Extra / Eurico Rosa Da Silva / Gail Cox
6 / Upgrade / Luis Contreras / Michelle Nihei
7 / Artic Fern / Tyler Pizarro / Mike Keogh
8 / Riding the River / Todd Kabel / Dave Cotey
9 / Bear Tough Tiger / Justin Stein / Reade Baker
10 / Hotep / Emma-Jayne Wilson / Malcolm Pierce