11/23/2012 1:00PM

Churchill Downs: Boisterous figures tough to handle in River City Handicap

Jessica Hansen/NYRA
Boisterous will make his final start of the season in the Grade 3 River City Handicap.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – If ever a horse was overqualified for a stakes race, Boisterous might be it. As a winning favorite in the Grade 2 Red Smith at Aqueduct earlier this month, isn’t he a proverbial “free space” when wheeling back Sunday in the Grade 3, $100,000 River City Handicap on the closing-day program of the Churchill Downs fall meet?

Sure seems like it. Shug McGaughey, the Hall of Fame trainer who oversees the conditioning of Boisterous for the powerhouse Phipps Stable, said that except for the 1 1/8-mile River City, he had no palatable alternative as a season-ending race for the 5-year-old horse.

“I didn’t want to ship him down to Calder for the mile-and-a-half,” McGaughey said, referring to the Grade 2 McKnight on Saturday. “And when I shipped [Data Link] out to California, I could’ve sent him along for a mile-and-a-sixteenth race, but I’m thinking that’s just a little too short for him. So we sent him there to Louisville on Tuesday for this race.”

Boisterous, with Jose Lezcano in to ride, will break from post 2 when spotting his 11 opponents anywhere from 5 to 12 pounds as the 124-pound highweight in this 35th running of the River City. Three weeks before taking the Red Smith for a second straight year, the 5-year-old horse won the Grade 3 Knickerbocker, also as the defending champion.

McGaughey said Boisterous will get a brief respite from serious training after the River City.

“He likes the colder weather and doesn’t like real hard turf, and I felt like maybe we could get a little softer ground over there at Churchill,” he said this week from New York. “After this, I’ll take him to Payson Park and try to figure out what we want to do with him next year.”

Beyond Boisterous, who figures to be odds-on, the pecking order of favoritism seems far less defined in the River City, which goes as the 10th of 11 races on the 21st and last program of the meet, with Middie, Stormy Lord, and Guys Reward all likely to draw a fair amount of play.

Middie (post 4, Francisco Torres) has won 3 of his last 6 starts and comes off a decent fifth-place finish in the Fayette Stakes. Stormy Lord (post 6, Jim McAleney) has earned more than $1.16 million while doing yeoman’s work in Canada and elsewhere. And Guys Reward (post 7, Corey Lanerie) has won a remarkable 5 of 9 starts over the Churchill turf, most notably the Grade 2 Firecracker in July.

Fringe considerations in an interesting cast include Global Power, Temeraine, Keep Up, Miami Deco, and Depeche Chat.

First post Sunday is 12:40 p.m. Eastern, with the River City set for 5:15. After three dark days, live action on the Kentucky circuit picks up Thursday night with the start of four months of winter racing at Turfway Park.