05/25/2012 12:43PM

Woodbine: Riding the River seeks to avoid traffic in Connaught Cup

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Sunday’s Connaught Cup, a seven-furlong race that is the first turf stakes of the Woodbine meeting, has lured a competitive field of 11, and one horse who could be overlooked is Riding the River, a 5-year-old gelding trained by Dave Cotey.

“If he can regain his best form and get a good trip, he’ll be right there,” said Cotey, who also owns Riding the River in partnership with Hugh Galbraith and Jim McNair.

Unfortunately for Cotey, good trips and Riding the River were seldom mentioned in the same breath last year.

The most dramatic example came in the Grade 2 Play the King, a seven-furlong turf race in which Riding the River was blocked in upper stretch but rallied to be beaten a head by the invading Havelock.

Riding the River returned three weeks later to finish a very creditable fifth in the Woodbine Mile, beaten just 1 1/2 lengths by the victorious Turallure.

In two subsequent 2011 outings, Riding the River ran ninth, beaten seven lengths, in the Grade 1 Neartic over six furlongs and fourth, beaten 3 1/4 lengths, in the listed Labeeb. The turf was listed as yielding on both occasions.

“I don’t think he really likes an off turf,” Cotey said. “But he might have been tailing off; he’d run some tough races.”

After wintering in Ontario, at Martinwoods Farm, Riding the River started up here in mid-February.

Although he finished last of seven, beaten 10 3/4 lengths while competing under the third-level allowance term in a race over seven furlongs of Polytrack, Cotey is inclined to discount that result.

“The first quarter went in 24,” Cotey said. “He made a huge move, but they were speeding up and pulled away in the stretch.

“I think he’ll run a lot different race this time. Fitness-wise, he’ll be fine. He’s happy and feeling good.”

Riding the River will have a new rider Sunday in Todd Kabel, who has been aboard for his recent breezes.

Allowance looks like Plate prep

The 1 1/8-mile Plate Trial, which is the key local stakes stepping-stone to the June 24 Queen’s Plate, will be run here next Sunday, but a Plate pre-trial of sorts will take place here one week earlier with five of the six entrants in Sunday’s third race looking to book a ticket to the $1 million dance.

The stakes-placed Patrioticandproud, who is trained by Mark Casse, is the only Kentucky-bred.

Aldous Snow, Canadian Navy, Colleen’s Sailor, and Shakespeare’s Brew are currently nominated to the Queen’s Plate, and Macho Whiskey would have to be supplemented on entry day.

Macho Whiskey, Canadian Navy, and Shakespeare’s Brew all will be making their third career starts and trying two turns for the first time.

Reade Baker, who trains Macho Whiskey for Dick Bonnycastle, believes the gelding will handle the longer distance.

“Both sides of his pedigree say he’ll go two turns and so does his body shape,” Baker said. “I would have liked to have had a couple more weeks, but I think he can win.”

Macho Whiskey finished second in his debut, which came over six furlongs of sloppy going at Gulfstream, and then was a going-away winner over the same distance here May 6.

Shakespeare’s Brew made a winning bow over six furlongs of turf here in April 2011 and returned with a good second-place finish behind the sharp shipper Doctor Chit in a first-level allowance at seven furlongs here May 12.

“He seems like he’ll settle and relax in the first part of the race,” said Kevin Attard, who trains Shakespeare’s Brew for Jason and Frank Justice. “He’s trained well enough. This will kind of decide where we go.”

Canadian Navy finished second in his 5 1/2-furlong debut here last December and then was an impressive winner at 6 1/2 furlongs here April 27.

“We’re hoping we have a Queen’s Plate horse,” said Josie Carroll, who trains Canadian Navy for Earle Mack. “This is the kind of good, tough race that you need if you have designs to go on.”

Aldous Snow finished fourth in last fall’s 1 1/8-mile Coronation Futurity and has two starts under his belt this year.

After finishing a remote eighth while racing under the first-level allowance condition in an off-the-turf allowance over 1 1/16 miles at Fair Grounds, Aldous Snow stopped over at Keeneland with trainer Malcolm Pierce and was a good third, beaten 1 3/4 lengths, in a first-level allowance at 1 1/8 miles on the grass.

“I was hoping this race would go,” said Pierce, who trains Aldous Snow for Sam-Son Farm. “It gets the horse a mile and an eighth, and it gives us an extra week to the Plate if we’re still going that way.”

Pierce also is making an equipment change as Aldous Snow will be racing with blinkers for the first time.

“His last few works have been with blinkers,” Pierce said. “I think it kind of makes him concentrate a little better. Instead of putting his mind to running, he’s been looking around, especially in his last race.”

Colleen’s Sailor also has two-turn experience, having finished fifth here in the 1 1/16-mile Display Stakes in his fourth and final start at 2. He returned with a third-place finish in a first-level allowance at the same distance here May 12.

That start was Colleen’s Sailor’s first for Roger Attfield, who also had sent out the talented but lightly raced 6-year-old Perfect Afleet to win the race by 4 1/4 lengths.

Colleen’s Sailor ended just a half-length behind the runner-up, the 4-year-old Clean House.

“I thought that was quite a creditable race,” said Attfield, who trains Colleen’s Sailor for Sal and Colleen Simeone. “He ran very legitimately. He did get tired, but he didn’t lay down.

Seven likely for Woodbine Oaks

Next Sunday’s $500,000 Woodbine Oaks, a 1 1/8-mile race for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies, is shaping up with a field of seven.

Dixie Strike and Northern Passion, both multiple stakes winners, are trained by Mark Casse, who also will send out Black Bird Rock, one of three fillies coming off their maiden victories.

Horseshoe Hill, trained by Mike Doyle, and Irish Mission, trained by Mark Frostad, also will be looking to double up off their first victories.

Roses and Shine, from the barn of Ralph Biamonte, won a pair of stakes at 2, but has yet to find her best stride in two outings at this meeting.

Poof Too retired with injury

Poof Too, a Kentucky-bred 4-year-old trained by Mark Frostad, has been retired to the broodmare ranks.

“She fractured a sesamoid,” said Frostad, who trained Poof Too for John Fielding and Frederick Hertich III.

Poof Too compiled a record of 4-2-2 from 10 starts, banking $137,959. Her efforts included third-place finishes in the Grade 3 Mazarine Stakes here at 1 1/16 miles and in the Pago Hop over one mile of turf at Fair Grounds.