12/11/2015 4:21PM

Road to the Derby analysis: Grey Stakes

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Michael Burns
Riker wins the Grey Stakes on Oct. 4 at Woodbine.

Grade 3, $114,045 (U.S.) Grey Stakes, 1 1/16 miles (Polytrack), Woodbine, Oct. 4, 2015
(10 Derby qualifying points for a win, 4 for second, 2 for third, 1 for fourth)

Winner: Riker (sire: Include)
Trainer: Nick Gonzalez
Jockey: Jesse Campbell
Owner: Tucci Stables
Beyer Speed Figure: 85

This race is an outlier since of the 35 races in which horses can earn points toward a berth in the Kentucky Derby, it is one of just three run on a synthetic surface and the only one of those three that is for 2-year-olds. It drew a small field of five, with four of the runners based at Woodbine, plus a ship-in, KASSEOPIA, who had made his two most recent starts on synthetic at Kempton in Great Britain.

RIKER, the winner, remained unbeaten with another front-running effort, solidifying his position as the best 2-year-old male based at Woodbine. He broke sharply and had no one challenge him for the early lead, so he was able to make the top while setting moderate fractions, though he was having a bit of a tug of war with Campbell around the first turn. He finally began to cooperate with his rider down the backside while still maintaining a comfortable lead, was asked to quicken in upper stretch while under a ride, shifted ground in midstretch, but never appeared in danger of losing while successfully stretching out around two turns for the first time.

Kasseopia, who was second, veered out at the start but still was able to move up into second heading into the first turn, sat second while in the clear down the backstretch, got within a couple lengths of Riker a quarter-mile out, but was repelled through the lane.

TIZZARUNNER, who was third, checked briefly into the first turn behind RUCK, was fourth of five while on the rail around the first turn, was niggled at by jockey Patrick Husbands to get closer heading into the far turn, swapped to his wrong lead in midstretch for a brief time when unable to gain on the top two, went back to his correct lead late, but simply was third-best.

VAN DAMME, who was fourth, was wrestled back to last shortly after leaving the gate, was asked down the backstretch to try to keep up, but could not do so at that point, was shoved along more aggressively by jockey T.D. Houghton on the far turn, and only was able to pass Ruck through the lane while drifting all over the place.

Ruck, who finished last of five, seemed to resent the strong hold taken by jockey Jim McAleney leaving the gate, tossed his head about, settled down, and raced in the clear in third around the first turn and into the backstretch. He attempted to rally in the three path on the far turn, was first given a smack with the whip three furlongs out, and never made an impact.