Riding the River, winner of the the King Edward Stakes (Can-IIT) in a blanket finish one month ago, is the 5-2 morning-line choice to register a repeat victory in the $200,000 Nijinksy Stakes (Can-IIT) July 21 on the Woodbine turf.
Trained by David Cotey for Dominion Bloodstock, HGHR Inc., and Linmac Farm, the always-game Riding the River is on a path to defend his crown as Canada's champion male turf performer.
The Kentucky-bred 6-year-old gelding by Wiseman's Ferry opened the season with a runner-up finish in the Connaught Cup (Can-IIT) May 26, then posted a razor-thin repeat victory in the June 23 King Edward. A second straight triumph in the 1 1/8-mile Nijinksy could have him well-primed for a return later this summer in the $1 million Ricoh Mile (Can-IT), in which he was fourth last year.
But first things first. In the Nijinksky, he'll have to deal once more with King Edward runner-up Valentino Beauty, who lost by a head, and third-place finisher Hotep, who came flying at the end of the one-mile race to miss by a neck.
The Nijinksy Stakes is the seventh race on Woodbine's Sunday card with a scheduled post time of 4:05 p.m. EDT. Riding the River will carry top weight of 123 pounds, spotting all but one of his rivals six pounds (Pool Play has 121), and will be guided from post 5 by regular pilot Todd Kabel.
Bruce Lunsford's homebred Valentino Beauty had the lead in the King Edward past mid-stretch but failed to hold on in the final strides. The 4-year-old Vindication gelding has three wins in five career starts while in search of his first stakes tally for trainer Barbara Minshall. He is pegged at 3-1 on the morning line with Hall of Fame rider Edgar Prado to claim the return mount.
Listed at 4-1 is Sam-Son Farms' Hotep, whose eye-catching late surge in the King Edward was not quite enough to snap a losing streak that has now reached eight races over the past 13 months. Trainer Malcolm Pierce has tabbed a new rider in Jesse Campbell, and the extra distance in the Nijinsky should certainly help.
Campbell replaces Emma-Jayne Wilson, who winds up back on Uphill Stable's So Long George (10-1), who was beaten by only half a length at 34-1 when fourth in the King Edward. Four-year-old So Long George, a son of Arch, is a five-time winner from 12 starts for trainer John Charalambous.
Pender Harbour (8-1), 3-year-old champion in 2011 when he captured the Prince of Wales and Breeders' stakes, was last of nine when weakening in the King Edward. It was his first start in eight months.
The Michael De Paulo-trained 5-year-old Philanthropist gelding should benefit from the start and the additional furlong in the Nijinksy. Justin Stein takes the call on Pender Harbour, who races without blinkers.
W.S. Farish's Pool Play tries the turf once again, where he is winless in nine starts for trainer Mark Casse. The 8-year-old son of Silver Deputy attempts to regain the form that saw him win both the 2011 Stephen Foster (gr. I) and 2012 Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. II).
Grand Arch (6-1) is in fine form as he takes his first step into graded company for trainer Brian Lynch and owners Jim and Susan Hill. The 4-year-old gelding by Arch comes off a front-running 4 3/4-length romp in an allowance/optional claiming event at the Nijinsky distance on the Woodbine turf June 23.
Grand Arch heads into the race with back-to-back victories after being elevated from second following a bumping incident in a first-level allowance event at Keeneland April 26.
$200,000 Nijinksy Stakes (Can-IIT, Race 7, 4:05 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, ML Odds
1. Artic Fern (ON), T Pizarro, 117, M Keogh, 30/1
2. Grand Arch (KY), L Contreras, 117, B A Lynch, 6/1
3. Hotep (ON), J M Campbell, 117, M Pierce, 4/1
4. So Long George (KY), E Wilson, 117, J Charalambous, 10/1
5. Riding the River (KY), T Kabel, 123, D Cotey, 5/2
6. Hampstead Heath (ON), E R Da Silva, 117, B A Lynch, 15/1
7. Valentino Beauty (KY), E S Prado, 117, B J Minshall, 3/1
8. Pool Play (ON), G Boulanger, 121, M E Casse, 12/1
9. Pender Harbour (ON), J Stein, 117, M P De Paulo, 8/1
10. Classic Bryce (ON), J V Bridgmohan, 117, D D Banach, 20/1
Blinkers Off: Pender Harbour
Cheek Piece: Artic Fern