08/24/2012 2:46PM

Woodbine: Riding the River goes short in Play the King

Michael Burns
Riding the River, winning the 1 1/8-mile Nijinsky last time out, returns in the seven-furlong Play the King.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario − It’s been said that turnbacks don’t often work on the turf, but Riding the River will try to buck the theory Sunday at Woodbine in the $200,000 Play the King Stakes.

A seven-furlong sprint, the Play the King is the prep for the $1 million Woodbine Mile on Sept. 16.

Riding the River has captured Grade 2 turf stakes in his last two starts, the one-mile King Edward and the nine-furlong Nijinsky, both under Todd Kabel. Trainer David Cotey said he is cautiously optimistic that the cutback in distance won’t be a hindrance to Riding the River.

“He should be running pretty strong on end,” Cotey said. “I just hope running him in two longer races didn’t take something out of him. He tries. That’s the main thing.

“I think Kabel fits him pretty well. He’s gotten to know him a lot better. He’s gotten more confident as they go along. The first thing Todd said after the second time he rode him is that you don’t want to be in front too early with him.”

In the Nijinsky, Riding the River was blocked in the stretch before surging late to prevail by a neck over Hotep. Cotey compared the trip with Riding the River’s start in last year’s Play the King, in which he was a troubled second to Havelock.

“He had a trip from hell last year,” Cotey said. “He had absolutely nowhere to go. He was blocked off, and then had to force his way into a pocket. He got bumped around before he could go after the horses in front. He got beat a head. It was much like in the Nijinsky, except he managed to get there this time.”

Smokey Fire will probably be favored in the Play the King. He captured the 2010 running before ending up sixth in the Woodbine Mile. After missing all of 2011, he returned June 24 and closed stoutly after awaiting room on the turn to take the Grade 2 Highlander over six furlongs.

Smokey Fire was favored in the allowance prep for the Play the King but finished fifth after lacking room along the inside throughout the entire stretch run.

“He couldn’t get out,” trainer Sid Attard said. “He had nowhere to go.”

Attard said Smokey Fire worked to his satisfaction last Sunday, when he breezed five-eighths in 1:00.20 under jockey Eurico Da Silva.

“Da Silva was very happy with the way he worked,” Attard said. “He’d never been on him in the morning before.”

Right One, based at Saratoga with trainer Christophe Clement, was beaten a head when third behind Turallure and Courageous Cat in the 2011 Woodbine Mile. He was scratched from the Grade 2 Fourstardave at Saratoga on Aug. 11 because of the soggy conditions and was fifth in his last outing in the Grade 3 Poker at Belmont.

Big Band Sound has been freshened since finishing a neck back in the June 24 King Edward, which was his fourth straight second in a stakes.

Grand Adventure is starting for the first time since a 10th-place finish in the Grade 2 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint in November at Churchill.