04/26/2012 4:07PM

Woodbine: Riding the River returns in tough sprint

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario — Riding the River, a successful layoff horse, will prep for the Grade 2 Connaught Cup Stakes in the seven-furlong feature on Saturday at Woodbine. The third-level allowance, with an $80,000-claiming option, has also lured 2010 Queen’s Plate winner Big Red Mike and the winter-raced Hunters Bay.

Riding the River, a hard-trying 5-year-old trained by Dave Cotey, ran several strong races in a series of stakes last year after capturing his first two outings in the spring. After checking in third in the Bold Venture, he lost a heartbreaker to shipper Havelock in the Grade 2 Play the King on the grass.

Riding the River was beaten just a length and a half by victorious Turallure when fifth in the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile in September. His last two subpar performances in October both came over yielding turf.

“He’s doing great, but I don’t know how fit he’s going to be,” said Cotey. “That concerns me. He’s had three five-eighths works. He’s in really good order, and I think he’ll run a decent race, but I would guess that he’s going to need one.”

Cotey plans on running Riding the River back in the May 27 Connaught Cup, a seven-furlong turf sprint worth $150,000.

“We’re pointing towards the Connaught Cup, and this will certainly set him up for that,” said Cotey.

Luis Contreras, who won an optional claimer last June the only time he rode Riding the River, has the mount.

Big Red Mike is winless since his memorable Queen’s Plate triumph. He started just twice last year, which included a third behind Rahys Attorney and Simmard in a difficult 11-furlong allowance in his most recent start June 3.

Hunters Bay should be favored off his runner-up placing behind Grade 2 stakes winner Pants On Fire in a tough optional claimer going a mile around one turn at Gulfstream March 7.

Hunters Bay had an abbreviated 2011 campaign, during which he earned back-to-back triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures for ending up second in a pair of optional events. He went to the sidelines for nearly 10 months after winning his lone Woodbine start by six lengths with a 94 Beyer on May 14.

Quick Code stalked a quick pace before weakening to fourth when he came off the bench in a $40,000 starter allowance April 8. His most lucrative of five wins last year came in the restricted Kenora Stakes.

Completing the field are Say No More, Alpha Bettor and Guipago.