12/03/2010 2:01PM

Rivelli has high hopes for Helicopter in Valedictory


ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Trainer Larry Rivelli, who is based in Chicago, won the first race of the marathon Woodbine meeting with Neverrguwithrichie on April 2. On Sunday, Rivelli will be on hand to saddle Helicopter for the $150,000 Valedictory, a 1 3/4-mile marathon stakes race on a marathon 13-race card that is set to begin at 1 p.m. and conclude at 6:51 p.m.

“I think we’ll win,” Rivelli said. “The horse is doing fantastic. He’s like the little engine that could; he just keeps going and going.”

Helicopter, a Florida-bred 4-year-old gelding, was claimed for $25,000 from his first career start at Calder on May 15, 2008.
But after going winless in his following 17 starts for owner/trainer Daniel Hurtak in Florida, Helicopter was purchased by owner/trainer Wayne Catalano and promptly won two of his next three outings.

Helicopter was then purchased privately by Rivelli, who said the horse changed hands for $5,000 and went on to win three of four while finishing second in the other outing.

The bad news was that Helicopter was claimed for $10,000 from the third win on July 26, 2009.

“Everybody in the barn was so upset,” Rivelli said. “I offered the person who claimed him a substantial profit and got him back. He hasn’t run for a claiming price again.”

Helicopter has won 11 of his 17 races since being reacquired by Rivelli, including six straight at one point.

“He used to have muscle problems,” Rivelli said. “I own a hyperbaric chamber here in Illinois. I put him in it for a month, and he’s never had to go back in.”

While the majority of his success has come in $5,000 starter and handicap allowance company, Helicopter also has won two allowance races, including his first condition at 1 1/4 miles here last fall.

It was that race, combined with his performance in a return trip to Woodbine this fall, that prompted Rivelli to give the Valedictory a whirl.

Running in his most difficult spot to date, Helicopter finished third behind Pool Play and Eye of the Leopard, who will be the top two choices in the Valedictory, in the 1 5/8-mile allowance prep for the stakes.

“He had a bad trip on the rail, which wasn’t very good that day,” Rivelli said. “Galloping out, he was in front of all of them.”

The prep was run Nov. 6, but Rivelli was not content to bring Helicopter into the Valedictory off works alone.

Instead, Helicopter raced 10 days later in a 1 3/4-mile starter allowance at Mountaineer Park in which he ended second, beaten 9 3/4 lengths but 13 1/2 lengths ahead of the third-place finisher.

“I wanted to get a race in between,” Rivelli said. “It probably wasn’t the ultimate spot, but there was no Polytrack race for him there or in the U.S.

“The track was sloppy; I don’t think he likes mud at all. It was awful hard for him to close –it was a terribly slow pace, they were just walking.”

One thing that seems certain is that Helicopter will not be daunted by the Valedictory distance.

“He just relaxes so nice,” Rivelli said. “He’ll settle, tuck in behind horses, just galloping with that nice stride. I think he’d go three miles.”

Lym heading to Hong Kong

Steve Lym, Woodbine’s racing secretary and a director of racing, will not be on hand for Sunday’s finale.

Instead, Lym will on his way to Hong Kong for the World Thoroughbred rankings conference, where he will don his hat as a member of the World Thoroughbred Rankings Committee.

One topic that will be undoubtedly be discussed there is the Canadian International, which Lym views as the highlight of the 2010 meeting.

“The participation was good, from the Europeans in particular,” said Lym, adding that overseas shippers for the same day’s E.P. Taylor and Nearctic also were plentiful. “It shows that interest is high in Europe. We’re still a major player.”

Looking at the wider picture, Lym sees the general racing scene in a favorable light.

“Generally, I think we had a good year again,” Lym said. “The average field size is down a little bit, from 9.1 to 8.9, but it’s not as straightforward as it looks.

“We had smaller fields for the better horses; we had more five-horse fields than we’ve ever had. But we’re finishing the year strongly. We’ve run some extra races most days the last two weeks.”

Track wants 167 days in 2011

Woodbine is seeking its usual 167 Thoroughbred racing dates for next season, beginning April 2 and concluding Dec. 4, and the request currently is before the Ontario Racing Commission.

The ORC has circulated the proposed calendars for all of the province’s racetracks and has established Monday as the deadline for public comment.

There is unlikely to be any objection to Woodbine’s Thoroughbred request as the only significant change for the 2011 meeting involves post times.

A 2 p.m. start was introduced for Thursday cards this year, and Woodbine, with the support of the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, also would like to move Friday post times to 2 p.m. from May 27 through Sept. 23. Earlier and later Friday post times would start at the current 1 p.m.

Woodbine also has requested early 12:30 p.m. post times for Sunday, June 26, which will be Queen’s Plate Day, and Saturday, Oct. 29, in order for that card to end early to accommodate the evening’s Breeders’ Crown races here.

◗ The holidays won’t last long for local horsemen as stall applications for the 2011 meeting are due no later than Jan. 19.

The backstretch will reopen for ship-ins on Feb. 8, and the training track is set to open the following day.

◗ Voting for the Sovereign Awards, which takes place online and is conducted by the Jockey Club of Canada, will begin Jan. 1 and remain open through Jan. 14. The three nominees in each category, excepting Horse of the Year, will be announced Jan. 26.

The Sovereign Awards ceremony will take place on the third floor here at Woodbine on Friday, April 1.