Robert Courntey’s Rahystrada, the second-longest price in the field at 56-1, held his nine rivals at bay in the stretch to win the $112,700 River City Handicap (gr. IIIT) by 2 1/4 lengths Nov. 27 at Churchill Downs (VIDEO). The 5-year-old gelding by Rahy carried 114 pounds, seven fewer than runner-up Rahy's Attorney.
It was the first graded stakes win for trainer Byron Hughes and first stakes win at Churchill Downs for jockey Leandro Goncalves.
Kareilan, the 122-pound highweight and 8-5 favorite, set the early pace in the nine-furlong event and faded to finish eighth.
Under Goncalves, Rahystrada saved ground early as Kareilan clicked off a :24.02 opening quarter and :48.43 half-mile. Rahystrada was still fifth after six furlongs in 1:12.67 as Rahy’s Attorney went for the lead under Robert Landry. The winner came out to make his bid in the stretch and burst to a three-length lead at the eighth pole. Pleasant Strike rallied from ninth to miss the runner-up spot by a nose. The final time was 1:49.18.
“When the horses began to split I had an opening and slipped through,” Goncalves said. “I knew going in it was a tough race. I just rode him very confidently and he ran big for me like he always does. All three times that I have been on him I have won. Today was a test to see how good he was. He proved he fits with these horses.”
Rahystrada was sent off at 56-1 for a reason. While he came into the River City off a 1 3/4-length score Oct. 24 over a yielding turf course at Keeneland, he had made his two previous starts in claiming races at Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort and Arlington Park. In July, he finished seventh in the Independence Day Stakes at Mountaineer. His previous stakes experience prior to that was a third-place finish in the Grand Canyon Handicap at Churchill Downs as a 2-year-old in November 2006.
“We were just hoping to be in the money and he did better than we thought, of course,” said Hughes. “It was great. We knew he was doing well after his last race so that’s why we ran him and everything worked out. I’ve have him for about a year to a year-and-a-half now and he was doing better than he had before. We went on with him and gave him a shot.”
The $66,382 first-place prize boosts his career earnings to $265,654. He now has eight wins from 22 starts.
Rahystrada, bred in Kentucky by Jaime S. Carrion, Trustee, is out of the Deputy Minister mare Ministrada. The River City winner is a half-brother to grade III winner Lone Star Sky (by Conquistador Cielo).
“He’s got the breeding to do it,” Hughes said. “He’s just been improving for the last three or four races and just getting better and better. Training-wise, he’s been doing really well. Frankie Brothers had him when he was just starting out and he ran him in a stakes as a 2-year-old and got third, so he’s always been meant to be a decent horse. He had a few problems along the way but we worked through them and he’s been doing well. He’s supposed to have time off now but we’ll see.”
Rahystrada returned $115.80, $42.80, and $16.80. Rahy’s Attorney (by Crown Attorney out of a Rahy mare), paid $5.40 and $4.40. Pleasant Strike paid $6 to show. The 6-4 exacta returned $755 and the 6-4-7 trifecta paid $6,127.60.
Hughes said he had $2 across on his first graded stakes winner as a trainer.
“I’ve been in the horse business all my life,” he said. “My parents raised us on a farm in Paris (Kentucky). I started training out on the farm. For the last five to eight years I’ve increased my stable. Right now I’ve got about 20 and we’re trying to get better horses. (Owner) Robert Courtney has helped me out quite a bit. I’ve known him since we were kids almost. When we were young we ran around together and then kind of went our separate ways and got back together a few years ago.”