Mill House's favored America Alive, last of a tightly bunched field at the head of the stretch, rallied on the outside to get up in the final stride, nosing G P Fleet to win the $167,700 River City Handicap (gr. IIIT) Sunday on the Churchill Downs turf course.
Ridden by Robby Albarado for trainer Neil Howard, the 4-year-od colt by American Chance needed every inch of the long Churchill stretch to just get by the determined G P Fleet, who was looking for a repeat victory in the River City on his favorite turf course.
"That's the way he runs. He just puts you on the edge of your seat," said Howard. "He just comes late and hard."
G P Fleet, on the flank of the pacesetting Shaniko throughout, gained the lead a furlong out for Jesus Castanon. Shaniko, with Brice Blanc in the irons, held third, a neck behind G P Fleet, over an unlucky Honor in War, who was bottled up on the inside for the entire stretch run under David Flores. The final time for the 1 1/8-mile event was 1:50 3/5 on a firm course.
America Alive, carrying 119 pounds, returned to the scene of his grade I triumph in the Turf Classic May 7 with Albarado aboard. The pair was coming off a one-mile allowance win at Keeneland Oct. 26 on a yielding course. America Alive improved his record over Churchill Downs' Matt Winn Turf Course to 2-1-1 in four races.
A field of eight contested the River City. Shaniko was staked to an early lead and took them along through pedestrian fractions of :25, :50 and 1:14 1/5. As they reached the far turn, the field began to bunch and there were no more than three lengths separating Shaniko from America Alive as the turf specialists stormed off the turn. That made for an exciting stretch run as America Alive wore down his rivals while fully extended on the extreme outside.
"Down the backside I knew it was a slow pace so I knew it was just a matter of getting a good trip," said Albarado. "I was in the pocket the whole way and I only had a few horses in front of me. So I always had my sights on where to go with him. When I did turn it on –'bang' – he just turned it on like always."
The Kentucky homebred earned his eighth victory in 20 starts and increased his earnings to $793,767. Sunday's victory was worth $103,974.
America Alive paid $5, $2.60 and $2.20. G P Fleet, who now has four wins and four seconds in nine career starts on the Churchill sod, returned $4.60 and $4. Shaniko's show was $4.
"He's a hundred percent honest horse," said Castanon of G P Fleet. "I asked him for all that he had and he gave it to me. He just couldn't hang on."
"He ran his guts out," said Steve Flint, trainer of G P Fleet. "They both ran great, it was a great race and I couldn't ask any more. I was second best in a head-bob, that's all."
It was a half-length back to Honor in War, followed by Gallo Del Bar, Fort Prado (the 9-2 second choice and 120-pound high weight), Seeking Answers and On the Acorn.