Former claiming horse G P Fleet returns to the scene of his most significant victory as he faces a strong field of seven rivals in Sunday's $150,000-added River City Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Churchill Downs.
Although G P Fleet won the 1 1/8-mile race a year ago, he is a 6-1 risk in the morning line for this year's renewal. The pre-race favorites are the Mill House's America Alive and 3rd Turn Stable's Honor In War. Both are winners of Churchill Downs' Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. IT), the track's most important turf test for older horses. America Alive, winner of this year's Woodford Reserve, is the 2-1 morning line favorite, while Honor In War, the 2003 winner stands as a close second choice at 5-2.
The River City is set as the ninth of 10 races on the final Sunday racing program of the year at Churchill Downs. The track's 21-day fall meet is set to close on Nov. 26.
The Woodford Reserve win by America Alive was easily the most important victory in a strong career. The son of American Chance has carved out a record of 7-3-3 in nineteen races with career earnings of $689,793.
That record includes a recent win in a one-mile turf allowance at Keeneland that snapped a string of four consecutive losses since his Woodford Reserve win. His setbacks came against the likes of 2004 turf champion Kitten's Joy, 2005 NetJets Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) winner Artie Schiller and multiple stakes winner Leroidsanimaux.
"He's had a real good year," said Howard. "He's coming into it good and I hope he runs well. He loves this turf course."
America Alive has a record of 1-1-1 in three races on the Matt Winn Turf Course, including a narrow loss last fall in a runner-up effort in the Commonwealth Turf and a close third to Kitten's Joy in the Firecracker Breeders' Cup (gr. IIT) in July.
Robby Albarado will ride America Alive, who was assigned 119 pounds for the River City.
Like America Alive, Honor In War comes into the River City off an allowance victory at Keeneland. That win by the 6-year-old son of Lord At War snapped a 12-race losing streak that dated to a victory in the Arlington Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Arlington Park in July 2003.
Trainer Paul J. McGee said that chronic quarter cracks had interfered with his veteran star's training and racing schedule over the past two years. But McGee believes that the victory at Keeneland and the subsequent training by Honor In War point to a big effort in Sunday's race.
"I really feel like he's as good as he's ever been," said McGee. "He's a very sound horse other than the foot problems, but they're behind him now. A lot of the grass horses you see do better as older horses and I think he's one of those. To me, he ought to run one of his best races in the River City."
David Flores will ride Honor In War, who finished a non-threatening sixth in last year's River City. He will carry 117 pounds.
With much attention will be focused on that pair of Woodford Reserve Turf Classic winners, defending winner G P Fleet could be poised to spring another River City surprise.
The 5-year-old owned by Richard, Elaine and Bert Klein was fifth in his most recent start in the Robert F. Carey Memorial (gr. IIIT) at Hawthorne. The 5-year-old Northern Afleet
gelding has victories this year in the Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup and in an allowance victory at Churchill Downs. He endured major traffic woes in a fifth-place finish in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic. The Steve Flint trainee finished just three lengths behind America Alive in that race.
Another major player in the River City is Chicago invader Fort Prado, who is listed at 3-1 in the morning line and has attracted the riding services of Rafael Bejarano, the leading jockey in the fall meet. Owned by Team Block and trained by Chris Block, the Illinois-bred son of El Prado
has won five of seven races this year. He was second to Spruce Run in the Carey Memorial and won the Sea O'Erin Breeders' Cup at Arlington Park.$150,000-added River City Handicap, (gr. IIIT), 3 & up, 1 1/8 miles (turf)
PP. Horse (weight), Jockey, ML Odds
1. G P Fleet (117), Jesus Castanon, 6-1
2. Gallo Del Bar (114), Orlando Mojica, 20-1
3. Honor In War (117), David Flores, 5-2
4. Fort Prado (120), Rafael Bejarano, 3-1
5. On The Acorn (113), Mike Smith, 15-1
6. America Alive (119), Robby Albarado, 2-1
7. Shaniko (116), Mike Smith, 5-1
8. Seeking Answers (114), Mark Guidry, 10-1