07/26/2010 2:31PM

Riviera Cocktail prime contender in Wickerr Stakes at Del Mar


DEL MAR, Calif. – Before Riviera Cocktail first arrived in this country, he had been an abject disappointment, having run three times, without a win, at major and provincial tracks in France. Things began to turn around for Riviera Cocktail as soon as he got to Del Mar, where he defeated maidens in his North American debut.

That was last summer. Fast forward to this summer, and Riviera Cocktail is vastly improved, so much so that he looms as one of the leading contenders on Wednesday in the $75,000 Wickerr Stakes, which kicks off week 2 at Del Mar.

Riviera Cocktail will be shooting for his third straight victory, having defeated a second-level allowance field, and a money-allowance field, in his last two starts. His nine rivals in the one-mile grass race on Wednesday include Gallant Son, who won the Inglewood Handicap and then finished second in the Shoemaker Mile in his last two starts at Hollywood Park, and Ferneley, who was third in this race last year before winning the Grade 2 Del Mar Mile.

“I think he’s improving. He’s trying,” said Neil Drysdale, who has trained Riviera Cocktail since his repatriation. “I think he’s trying harder now as we go along. His attitude is changing.”

Riviera Cocktail landed post 8 in the field of 10.

“On this course, you need a lot of luck, especially coming from off the pace from an outside post,” Drysdale said.

Drysdale said if Riviera Cocktail runs well on Wednesday, he would point for the Del Mar Mile, the Grade 2, $250,000 grass race to be run on Aug. 28.

The Del Mar Mile is also the intended destination for Ferneley, who is making his first start since Dec. 13, when he finished fifth of 14 in the Hong Kong Mile at Sha Tin. Though he has a strong series of works the past six weeks at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, and now Del Mar, Ferneley may be a race away from being at his absolute best, according to trainer Ben Cecil.

Gallant Son has been freshened since a productive winter and spring campaign, highlighted by the Inglewood victory and a second-place finish to The Usual Q.T. in the Sir Beaufort Stakes at Santa Anita.

Red Door Drive just missed against Riviera Cocktail in a money-allowance race on June 6, then was fifth of eight in the American Handicap.

Golden Balls was fifth of nine in the Shoemaker Mile, and though his oft-interrupted career has not produced a win since April 2007, he hails from the barn of red-hot trainer Jim Cassidy, who swept both graded stakes here opening weekend.