06/24/2013 2:54PM

Woodbine: Riding the River, repeat victor in King Edward, improving with age

Michael Burns
Riding the River (right) began his career at the $16,000 claiming level.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Riding the River, winner of last year’s Grade 2 King Edward Stakes, showed the same determination at age 6 as he battled back to win the $204,800 turf stakes by a head here Sunday afternoon.

“You look at his workouts, you look at him in the morning – he’s as good as he’s ever been,” said Dave Cotey, who trains Riding the River and owns the gelding in partnership with Hugh Galbraith and Jim McNair.

Riding the River, who began his career at the $16,000 claiming level, became a stakes winner in his third start of 2012, last year’s King Edward, with his most recent outing before that having been a fourth-place finish in the Connaught Cup.

This year, Riding the River made his seasonal bow in the Grade 2 Connaught Cup, a seven-furlong turf race here May 26, and Cotey had not been anticipating a top effort.

“We didn’t know if he was tight enough,” the trainer said.

Riding the River outran expectations that day, finishing second behind the front-running Something Extra in an effort that set him up perfectly for the dramatic King Edward reprise under 48-year-old Todd Kabel.

“Kabel handles him really, really, really well,” Cotey said. “The horse had a couple of pretty sharp works, and he was close early. Next time, we’ll probably sit back with him a little bit.

“He always hangs a little.”

All remaining well, Riding the River will return in the July 21 Nijinsky, a 1 1/8-mile turf race that offers Grade 2 status and a purse of $200,000.

Riding the River won the Nijinsky last year, then cut back to seven furlongs of turf for a second-place finish in the Grade 2 Play the King and followed with a fourth in the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile before he was put away with back problems.

This year’s Play the King is set for Aug. 25 and the Woodbine Mile for Sept. 15.

And Cotey sees no reason to fiddle with a program that earned Riding the River a title as Canada’s champion older male turf horse of 2012.

“He’s been uncomfortable the last two years,” Cotey said. “Our goal is the Mile, and I’d love to go in there when we’re sound.”