07/19/2013 1:33PM

Woodbine: Riding the River faces challenge in Nijinsky repeat bid


ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Riding the River aims to defend his title in the Grade 2, $200,000 Nijinsky Stakes on Sunday at Woodbine in a rematch with Valentino Beauty, who appears to be his main threat in the nine-furlong turf event.

Riding the River, Canada’s champion male grass horse in 2012, is in the midst of another productive campaign for hot trainer Dave Cotey. He rallied for second in his season opener, the Grade 2 Connaught Cup Stakes, and then won when stretching out to a mile after being more forwardly placed than usual in the Grade 2 King Edward Stakes.

Cotey said Riding the River overcame some adversity to win last year’s Nijinsky, which is run at a distance that is probably at the gelding’s limit.

“He won it while getting in all sorts of trouble,” Cotey recalled. “I don’t know how far he’ll go. He sits and relaxes so nicely. Last time, Todd Kabel had him up near pace, which, hopefully, won’t happen this time. Todd said [the course] was playing pretty fast, and the speed was carrying, so he put him up there. That’s not usually how he wants to get things done.”

Cotey was content with Riding the River’s five-furlong breeze on Polytrack last Monday in a bullet 58 seconds, which was in company with the maiden 2-year-old Danny Ocean.

“I caught them galloping out in three-quarters in 1:12.20,” Cotey said. “It was quite impressive. I wish they hadn’t gone quite that fast, but it didn’t take anything out of him. He was kicking the barn down the next day.”

Kabel will ride Riding the River, the 123-pound highweight.

The Barbara Minshall-trained Valentino Beauty finished a close fourth in the seven-furlong Connaught Cup. He was more effective at the longer distance of the King Edward, in which he challenged for the early lead before dropping back into a stalking position on the turn. He then came again along the rail in the stretch to assume a brief lead, before being overtaken by Riding the River in the final strides.

“He ran really well in the King Edward and came out of it really well,” Minshall said. “He had a nice breeze the other day. He’s good to go. I think the extra eighth of a mile won’t hurt him at all. He’s so rideable. He’ll relax.”

Edgar Prado retains the mount on Valentino Beauty, a Bruce Lunsford homebred.

So Long George could be an up-and-comer in the older turf ranks. He notched his season opener in a seven-furlong optional claimer, and was beaten just a half-length when he fourth in the King Edward.

Hotep finished a neck back in third in the King Edward. Runner-up in the 2010 Queen’s Plate, Hotep ran one of his best races in the 2012 Nijinsky, which he lost by a neck while finishing second.