Gainsborough Farm's Moon Solitaire, a European import who has exceeded expectations this year while competing against many of the finest turf horses in North America, faces defending winner Dr. Kashnikow and 10 other rivals in the $150,000-added River City Handicap (gr. III) Sunday at Churchill Downs.
The 1 1/8-mile turf test for 3-year-olds & up is the racing highlight on a day in which Churchill Downs salutes Kentucky sports champions, including University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino and members of the Little League World Series champion Valley Sports.
The Henry Cochran-trained Moon Solitaire could be a local sports hero by the end of the day as he bids to close out his racing season with a victory. The Irish-bred son of Night Shift toiled in England's handicap ranks for much of his career and arrived in trainer Henry Cochran's barn early this year with fairly low expectations.
But the 5-year-old opened his first U.S. season with a narrow loss to stakes veteran Jake the Flake in a Churchill allowance race. He followed that with a pair of outstanding races at Toronto's Woodbine: a romp over well-regarded Quiet Resolve in the King Edward Breeders' Cup (gr. II) and a fourth-place finish to Good Journey in the Atto Mile (gr. I). Moon Solitaire also finished third against top company in the Bowling Green Handicap (gr. II) and Kelso (gr. II), both at Belmont Park.
Cochran believes Moon Solitaire will relish the nine-furlong distance of the River City, which will serve as the 5-year-old's final race before a winter vacation.
"A mile, I feel is just a hair too short for him because it makes him chase a little bit too much," he said. "At a mile and an eighth he's got a little bit more of an opportunity to dictate the pace and run his race."
Leading jockey Pat Day will ride Moon Solitaire, who will carry 118 pounds. He's been installed as the 3-1 morning line favorite by Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia.
Erdenheim Farm's defending River City winner Dr. Kashnikow will look to snap a seven-race losing streak in Sunday's race. The John Fisher trainee has not won since last year's River City.
Other major contenders include Pisces, a dead-heat winner via disqualification in the Louisville (gr. III) at Churchill Downs; Modigliani, a Group 3 winner in Ireland; Canadian invader Stage Classic; and Gretchen's Star, unbeaten in three Churchill Downs turf races for owner-trainer Ron Isbell, Jr.$150,000-added River City (gr. III), 1 1/8 mile on turf, 3 & up
PP. Horse, Rider, ML Odds
1. Modigliani, Mark Guidry, 15-1
22. Pisces, Shane Sellers, 9-2
33. Foster's Landing, Justin Vitek, 20-1
44. Dr. Kashnikow, Robby Albarado, 4-1
55. Gretchen's Star, Calvin Borel, 6-1
66. Generous Rosi, Ray Sibille, 8-1
77. Dynameaux, Roman Chapa, 20-1
88. Stage Classic, Constant Montpellier, 12-1
99. Maysville Slew, Craig Perret, 12-1
1010. Roxinho, Lonnie Meche, 12-1
1111. Certantee, Horatio Karamanos, 20-1
1212. Moon Solitaire, Pat Day, 3-1