07/23/2012 2:18PM

Woodbine notes: Riding the River rewards Cotey's faith

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Michael Burns
Riding the River rallied to win Sunday's Nijinsky at Woodbine.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Riding the River was moving into uncharted territory in stretching out to 1 1/8 miles on the turf for this past Sunday’s $322,200 Nijinsky Stakes. But Dave Cotey, who trains the 5-year-old Riding the River and owns the gelding in partnership with Hugh Galbraith and Jim McNair, had been reasonably confident that the gelding would handle the distance.

“I thought he would because of the way he got 1 1/16 miles on the Polytrack, around two turns, as a 3-year-old,” said Cotey. “Usually, you can stretch a little on the turf.”

Riding the River, who was coming off a neck win in the Grade 2 King Edward over one mile on turf, justified Cotey’s faith by rallying under regular rider Todd Kabel to give the owner/trainer the most lucrative win of his career with the winner’s share of $180,000 in the Nijinsky.

And, not for the first time, Riding the River encountered trouble in the stretch run but was able to find his way clear for a neck victory.

“He got in more trouble than he did when he was getting in trouble regularly,” said Cotey. “He was knocked around, two or three times. But, he has what it takes to make a good grass horse. He can sit behind, rate, and has a turn of foot.

“Todd gets along great with him. He just rides him magnificently. He says you don’t want to make the lead too quickly.”

Cotey now must decide whether to continue going longer with Riding the River in the 1 1/4-mile Sky Classic or turn back to seven furlongs for the Grade 2 Play the King.

The $250,000 Sky Classic will be run on Aug. 19, with the $200,000 Play the King going one week later.

“Now we know he’ll go a mile and an eighth, no problem,” said Cotey. “Either race is a possibility.”

Last year, Riding the River was beaten a head as the runner-up in the Play the King and returned three weeks later to end fifth, beaten just 1 1/2 lengths, in the Woodbine Mile.

Stars to Shine pulls through

Stars to Shine also overcame an eventful trip to capture Sunday’s Grade 3, $153,000 Ontario Matron for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on the main track.

“She did get squeezed pretty good,” said trainer Mark Frostad, who had watched Stars to Shine steady on the final turn and bounce off the rail turning into the stretch before regrouping for a one-length score under rider Alex Solis. “She’s just a really nice filly; she’s very solid. She came through it all right.

“The pace was a little slow, and it didn’t take a lot out of her. She only ran the last three-eighths of a mile.”

Stars to Shine, owned by The Grange House Partnership, a group that includes British trainer Ed Vaughan. suffered a condylar fracture when she finished fifth in Keeneland’s Grade 1 Spinster last October and had made a victorious return to action here June 24 in the Trillium, an overnight stakes at 1 1/8 miles.

Now, with Stars to Shine having her first graded stakes win under her belt, Frostad may give the mare another crack at Grade 1 company.

“We might take a look at the Beverly D.,” said Frostad, with reference to the $750,000, 1 3/16 turf race for fillies and mares at Arlington Park on Aug. 18. “It’s obviously a big step up, but she’s equally adept, if not better, on turf and the mile and three-sixteenths is right in her wheelhouse.”

Stars to Shine last tried turf here last September in the Grade 2 Canadian, a 1 1/8-mile race in which she was beaten 1 1/2 lengths as the third-place finisher.

The winner, Never Retreat, came back to win Keeneland’s Grade 1 First Lady, and the runner-up, Perfect Shirl, upset the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf in her next start.

Tiller gets boost

Trainer Bob Tiller, who has been in constant pain because of a knee injury and is scheduled to undergo surgery this week, had a morale-boosting win here on Saturday when he sent out Grace Phil to capture the $125,000 Passing Mood Stakes under her regular rider, Steven Bahen.

Grace Phil was making her first start since May 20, when she finished a distant fourth as the favorite in the seven-furlong Lady Angela.

“I was very unhappy with her race that day,” said Tiller. “She was dull, and she didn’t work very well the first time I worked her back. We dug a little bit, and found out a little bit about her physical health. She’s come around the last six weeks. Her last two works were huge. I knew she was very ready; it was just a question of her handling turf. She’s never seen grass until she got on it. I don’t believe in working them on it.”

Grace Phil had started five times before the seven-furlong Passing Mood, winning three including the 1 1/16 mile South Ocean here last fall.

All of Grace Phil’s starts have come in restricted company, and if all remains well she will be back for the $125,000 Eternal Search, a 1 1/16-mile race for Ontario-sired 3-year-old fillies here Aug. 12.

Nikkis Bold Gelato and Princess Pick also represented the Tiller stable and finished third and fifth in the Passing Mood.

“I thought Nikki’s Bold Gelato had a horrendous trip – she fought the turn all the way,” said Tiller. “I thought it was a huge effort.

“Princess Pick just didn’t appear to be good enough. She was properly placed in the race.”

Bahen fined again

Meanwhile, Bahen was putting an exclamation mark on a roller-coaster week with his victory aboard Grace Phil.

Earlier on Saturday’s card Bahen’s mount Pulpation had been disqualified from an apparent victory after the stewards ruled that the rider had inadvertently struck runner-up Poetic Kid with his whip.

Not only did that miscue cost Bahen about $2,400, which was the difference between first and second-place money, but the stewards also tacked on a $200 fine for the infraction.

A week ago last Sunday, Bahen had finished second aboard Ultimate Destiny in Fort Erie’s Prince of Wales and was fined $2,000 after the stewards found that he had violated the rules for excessive whipping by striking his mount more than three times in succession.

Two work for Breeders’

Strait of Dover and Aldous Snow, who are leading candidates for the $500,000 Breeders’ Stakes, both breezed on the training track turf course here Sunday morning.

Justin Stein was aboard Strait of Dover, whose official clocking for seven furlongs was 1:28.

Aldous Snow was timed in 1:02.80 while working five furlongs in company with 4-year-old stablemate Thespian’s Fate.

The Aug. 5 Breeders’, at 1 1/2 miles on the turf, is the final leg of the triple crown for Canadian-bred 3-year-olds.

Strait of Dover won the 1 1/4-mile Queen’s Plate in his last start here June 24, while Aldous Snow defeated older rivals in a first-level allowance over one mile of turf on that same program.