11/02/2010 11:48AM

Battle of Hastings an honest contender in River City


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Even if he had never seen the past-performance lines on Battle of Hastings, Greg Fox has seen enough in recent mornings to know what the 4-year-old gelding is all about.

“He’s absolutely reliable and honest,” said Fox.

And so says all the data. Battle of Hastings, a 4-year-old gelding owned by Michael House, has amassed $1,277,340 from 21 starts, easily the highest earnings total among the nine older horses set to run Thursday in the Grade 3 River City Handicap on the Churchill Downs turf course. That class and consistency have made Battle of Hastings the 121-pound highweight in the 1 1/8-mile River City.

This is the first time that Battle of Hastings will race for Fox, a longtime equine veterinarian who turned to training full time in 2005. After finishing fourth in the Aug. 28 Pacific Classic for his former trainer, Jeff Mullins, Battle of Hastings was sent for a checkup in Lexington before being turned over to Fox.

Fox scratched Battle of Hastings from a rugged renewal of the Fayette Stakes last weekend at Keeneland. “With the River City right around the corner, I thought this was the most prudent move,” said Fox. “Hopefully we’ll get the right trip and he’ll run his race, and it’ll turn out to be the right move.”

Joel Rosario, the emerging superstar based in southern California, gets the call on Battle of Hastings, who will spot his rivals from 2 to 7 pounds when he breaks from post 3.

Probably the chief threat is the defending champion in the River City, Rahystrada, who will be making his first start since finishing a creditable fourth in the Aug. 21 Arlington Million. Last year, the gelding scored at nearly 57-1 under Leandro Goncalves and has since gone on to prove it was no fluke by running well in all five of his starts this year for Lexington-based trainer Scooter Hughes. Goncalves will be back aboard Rahystrada from post 1.

Another top contender is the Bill Mott-trained Midnight Mischief, who knocked out his second allowance condition in his last start. Julien Leparoux has the mount from post 7.

One of the unknowns in the field is Wise River (post 9, Calvin Borel), an earner of nearly $500,000. The 7-year-old horse won the Dallas Turf Cup in the spring but recently returned from a three-month layoff with a dubious effort under Frank Pennington at Hawthorne, being distanced and vanned off.

“The horse hit the rail a couple of times and the jockey took the conservative route,” said trainer Clark Hanna. “The Illinois state vet said he checked out fine afterward, and I’ve had vets look at him here. He’s fine, good to go.”

The rest of the River City field is Ready Set, Boots Ahead, Allie’s Event, Schramsberg, and Expansion.

This will be the 33rd running of the River City, which anchors a 12-race card that starts at 12:40 p.m. Eastern. The River City goes as the 11th race, with the 12th scheduled for 6:13.