07/20/2012 1:21PM

Woodbine: Nijinsky pits New York shipper Imagining vs. two sharp local turf runners

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Imagining is a rare Woodbine starter for trainer Shug McGaughey.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario — The New York shipper Imagining will meet two sharp local runners, Riding the River and Pender Harbour, over 1 1/8 miles on the turf Sunday in the $300,000 Nijinsky Stakes at Woodbine.

Imagining is a rare Woodbine starter for trainer Shug McGaughey, who has a host of good older grass runners. He has found a way to keep them apart by sending Imagining north of the border for the Grade 2 Nijinsky, in which he should be favored under Eddie Castro.

Imagining, who was a late-developing 3-year-old last year, has won back-to-back races facing optional-claiming company at Belmont. He led throughout his last race traveling 10 furlongs, scoring by six lengths while receiving a 93 Beyer Speed Figure.

Imagining figures to track the speedy Kara’s Orientation on the backstretch, before making his move.

Riding the River finished well up the Polytrack when he came off the sidelines in an April 28 optional claimer, but was a little better when fourth a month later in the Grade 2 Connaught Cup on turf. He went from seven furlongs to a mile most recently in the Grade 2 King Edward Stakes, in which he rallied strongly on the outside to prevail by a neck.

Trainer Dave Cotey had excuses for Riding the River’s first two outings of the meet.

“In his first race, he was 10 lengths off the pace with a 24 [second] quarter, and they came home in 22 and change,” Cotey recalled. “His blood wasn’t right for his next start, against horses who’d run all winter. We got everything right with him last time.”

Cotey said Riding the River has thrived since the June 24 King Edward.

“He’s doing awesome,” Cotey said. “We blew him out the other day, and he’s really on top of his game. He’s never been a mile and an eighth before, but with his running style, I’m optimistic that he’ll handle it. He gallops along, and has a real spurt when you ask him to go. His best race at 3 was at a mile and one-sixteenth, against older horses.”

Pender Harbour, last year’s Canadian champion 3-year-old, was also a bit slow to come around this year.

Pender Harbour was a well-beaten ninth in his first race back in the Grade 3 Eclipse Stakes. He subsequently won the restricted Steady Growth Stakes, and was a hard-trying second to favored Hunters Bay in the Grade 3 Dominion Day Stakes on July 1.

“He obviously needed his first race, which was against winter-trained horses,” said trainer Mike DePaulo. “He ran a pretty courageous race against Ontario-sired horses in his second race. He gave those horses seven or eight pounds. I thought his last race was real good. He made [Hunters Bay] run. He gave us some weight, but he was winter-raced, while we were trying to get fit.”

Pender Harbour was victorious in each of his two turf outings last year, which were both on soft ground in restricted stakes company.

“He’s never had the opportunity to run on a hard turf, but I don’t think it will be a problem,” DePaulo said.