09/22/2010 1:36PM

Riding the River rises from claiming ranks to Ontario Derby contender

Photos by Z/Keeneland
Stately Victor, winner of the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, is among nine runners for Saturday's Ontario Derby.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Riding the River could have been claimed for $16,000 in his debut here at Woodbine on April 16.

On Saturday, Riding the River will be looking to run his record to 5 for 6 and become a stakes winner in the $150,000 Ontario Derby, an open 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds.

“I think he’ll be competitive in there,” said Dave Cotey, who conditions Riding the River and owns the gelding in partnership with Derek Ball and Hugh Galbraith. “If he gets beat, it shouldn’t be by much.”

Riding the River, a Kentucky-bred who was a $3,500 yearling purchase at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October sale, spent time at the racetrack but never made it to the races as a 2-year-old.

“He had some problems, nothing serious,” said Cotey. “We just turned him out. To be honest, he didn’t show that much last year. He just looked like an ordinary horse.”

After wintering at nearby Pine Valley Training Centre, Riding River returned to Woodbine in late February and was entered in a $16,000 maiden claiming race at five furlongs on the second day of the meeting.

“He had worked well out of the gate,” said Cotey, who watched Riding the River come from just off the pace to score by 6 3/4 lengths. “I was expecting him to win, but I didn’t know he’d win like that, or to turn out like the horse he might be.”

Riding the River emerged from his debut with a pulled muscle in his leg, and was put on a program of walking and jogging before breezing again on June 30.

“He’s been perfectly sound since then,” said Cotey

Riding the River returned with a 4 3/4-length victory over fellow nonwinners-of-two at the $40,000 claiming level at 6 1/2 furlongs here July 16 but suffered his first defeat when third, beaten a length, in a first-level allowance at six furlongs two weeks later.

Now, Riding the River comes into the Ontario Derby following back-to-back victories after clearing his first condition over seven furlongs and his second at 1 1/16 miles when facing older horses.

That last race had been scheduled for turf but Cotey stayed in with Riding the River when the race was moved to the main track.

“I didn’t know if he’d handle older horses, but we wanted to see if he’d go two turns,” said Cotey. “We thought he would with the way he rates, settling in, and then coming with that real burst of speed.

Riding the River followed the script, coming from just off the pace to prevail by three-quarters of a length despite racing erratically in the closing stages under new rider Richard Dos Ramos.

“He ran pretty greenly,” said Cotey. “But Richard said there was plenty more in the tank, and they’ll know each other better now.”

While Cotey admits to some concern over running back Riding the River so soon after that Sept. 12 race, he does not see a preferable option.

“I don’t like running him back in 13 days, really,” said Cotey. “But it’s either that, or you go four or five weeks and go against older horses.”

The Ontario Derby has attracted an interesting field of nine, which includes Stately Victor, winner of the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, plus Big Red Mike and Hotep, the one-two finishers in the Queen’s Plate.

Kara’s Orientation, who is coming off back-to-back second-place finishes in the Grade 3 Canadian Derby at Northlands Park and the Toronto Cup here at Woodbine, is entered in both the Ontario Derby and Delaware’s Grade 3 Kent, which also will be run on Saturday.

The Kent, a 1 1/8-mile turf race for 3-year-olds which offers Grade 3 status and a purse of $250,000, also has attracted Stormy Lord, who defeated Kara’s Orientation over the same distance and surface in the Toronto Cup.

“We’ll take a look at both races, and make a decision,” said Steven Chircop, who conditions Kara’s Orientation.

Stormy Lord ships to Delaware

Stormy Lord, who followed up his Toronto Cup score with a strong second-place finish here in the Breeders’ Stakes over 1 1/2 miles of turf, also is in the Kent lineup.

Jim McAleney, who has been Stormy Lord’s regular rider since last October, has the call for the Kent.

Trainer Ian Black said he wants to keep Stormy Lord racing against his own age group and is looking forward to trying him on a tighter turf course than the outside course at Woodbine

“There really is nothing left here for straight 3-year-olds, so we would have to run against older horses if we stayed here,” Black said. “I have always wanted to try him on an inside turf course. When I train him on the inside training course here, he seems to handle the turns well and I think it may suit his running style.”

Lawless next for Rahy’s Attorney

Black also was on the road last weekend, sending out Rahy’s Attorney to finish second in the $250,000 PTHA President’s Cup over 1 1/8 miles of turf at Parx Racing outside Philadelphia.

A homebred 6-year-old gelding who races for Joe and Ellen MacLellan and partners, Rahy’s Attorney now will be pointed for the $125,000 Bunty Lawless here Oct. 23.

Rahy’s Attorney is 2 for 2 in the Bunty Lawless, having won the 2007 and 2009 editions of the one-mile turf stakes for Ontario-sired 3-year-olds and upward.

Lynch opts for Super Derby

Golden Moka, who upset Fort Erie’s Prince of Wales Stakes when making his North American and seasonal debut on July 25, is slated to return to action in Saturday’s Grade 2, $500,000 Super Derby at Louisiana Downs.

Anthony Stephens, who rode Golden Moka in the Prince of Wales, will be accompanying Golden Moka on the trip south.

Brian Lynch, who trains Golden Moka here for the Good Friends Stable, also had nominated the colt to the Grade 2, $1 million Pennsylvania Derby, which will be run on the same day and over the same 1 1/8-mile distance as the Super Derby.

“I thought this race came up a little bit easier,” said Lynch.

Miami Deco, who followed Golden Moka’s example by upsetting the Breeders’ for Lynch and owners Jim and Susan Hill, has not been seen in the interim.

“He’s still at the track,” said Lynch. “We stopped on him completely, gave him a bit of a freshening. The Breeders’ was a hard race.”

Namath runs while awaiting appeal

Trainer Barbara Minshall and jockey Luis Contreras both appealed the disqualification of Namath from an apparent win here Sept. 10 and their case will be heard at the nearby Ontario Racing Commission offices on Oct. 20.

Namath had reported home seven lengths in front but the stewards ruled he had come in on the stretch turn and bothered subsequent sixth-place finisher Chia Houa Houa.

In the meantime, Namath figures to take some beating when he returns in a maiden race here Friday with Contreras in the irons. Chia Houa Houa also is in the lineup.