Zayat Stables’ Thorn Song has a big class edge but will have to break from post 11 and concede three-to-nine pounds to his rivals, as the multiple graded stakes winner headlines the $100,000-added River City Handicap (gr. IIIT) on the Churchill Downs grass Nov. 22.
Thorn Song will try to become the third repeat winner in the history of the River City, which is run at 1 1/8 miles on the Matt Winn Turf Course. Same Old Wish (1996-97) and Dr. Kashnikow (2001-02) are the only two horses with back-to-back victories in the event, which will be race 9 on the Churchill program and is scheduled for a 4:37 p.m. EDT post.
Thorn Song capped off his four-win 2007 campaign in last year’s River City with a half-length victory over Cosmonaut. In that one, the son of Unbridled's Song stalked the pace and got up in the final strides under Kent Desormeaux to earn his first graded stakes score.
This season has been even better for Thorn Song, who since finishing off the board in two starts to begin the year, has been a consistent performer. The Dale Romans trainee went wire-to-wire in winning the one-mile Firecracker Handicap (gr. IIT) on the Churchill grass July 4 and three starts later notched a huge victory when taking the Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. IT) in similar front-running fashion at Keeneland.
The 5-year-old gray horse out of the Storm Bird mare Festal, who also has third-place finishes in the Fourstardave Handicap (gr. IIT) and Maker’s Mark Mile (gr. IT) this season, finished ninth in his most recent start, the Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. IT) Oct. 25 at Santa Anita. Despite that setback, he is the lone River City entrant with a North American grade I or II triumph on his résumé.
An earner of more than $900,000 from 23 career starts, Thorn Song will get Robby Albarado this time. He will carry 122 pounds.
Romans will also saddle a second starter in Yate’s Black Cat, who finished sixth in last year’s River City. The 5-year-old son of Black Minnaloushe is still seeking his first stakes score, although he was runner-up to current entrant Karelian in the Sea O Erin Handicap at Arlington Park in July.
Oxbow Racing’s Steve’s Double seems to be an improving horse with a chance to pull off a mild upset. A 5-year-old gelding by Stephen Got Even, Steve’s Double enters off a pair of stakes wins, the first coming Sept. 20 in the one-mile Unbridled Handicap at Louisiana Downs. Most recently, he stalked the pace to win the 1 1/16-mile Remington Green Stakes at Remington Park Oct. 19.
Perhaps more telling was earlier this season when Steve’s Double ran third to Thorn Song in the Firecracker, finishing just 1 1/2 lengths in back of the winner and a half-length in back of second-place finisher Einstein.
“He’s been training excellent and he’s put together two very good races while having to travel,” said trainer Ronny Werner. “Now he gets to stay home which is a plus, and he’s run pretty well over this course.
“Obviously, Thorn Song is the one to beat and we're going to have to step up to do it. I’m not sure if Thorn Song has gotten better since the Firecracker, but I know Steve has. The extra distance is probably my main concern; I don’t know how much he can handle. But I feel good about him here. He’s in a good spot.”
Jamie Theriot, aboard for the Remington Green win, will get the return mount on Steve’s Double, who scored in the Perryville Stakes (gr. III) on the Keeneland Polytrack last fall. They will break from post 10.
Other possible contenders are Star Plus, who is a group I winner in Argentina; Karelian, who aside from winning the Sea O Erin was only 2 1/2 lengths back of Thorn Song in the Turf Mile; and Canela, a son of El Corredor entering off a 5 1/4-length optional claiming victory at Churchill earlier this month.
$100,000 River City Handicap (gr. IIIT, Race 9, 4:37 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Yate's Black Cat (KY), 119, Miguel Mena
2. Mr. Sidney (KY), 113, John R. Velazquez
3. Star Plus (ARG), 116, Kent J. Desormeaux
4. Pleasant Strike (VA), 115, Christopher P. DeCarlo
5. Karelian (KY), 119, Calvin H. Borel
6. Just as Well (KY), 113, E. T. Baird
7. Telling (KY), 117, Shaun Bridgmohan
8. Demarcation (KY), 117, Jesus Lopez Castanon
9. Canela (KY), 115, Julien R. Leparoux
10. Steve's Double (MD), 117, Jamie Theriot
11. Thorn Song (KY), 122, Robby Albarado