Ro Parra's speedy veteran Warleigh can help sizzling trainer Steve Asmussen assault on the single-season win mark when he faces an overflow field of turf competitors in Sunday's $150,000-added River City Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Churchill Downs.
The race is Churchill Downs' final stakes event on the turf in 2004.
Warleigh barely missed winning the River City a year ago when the 6-year-old son of Lord At War couldn't hold off future grade I winner Hard Buck in a front-running effort over yielding turf. The footing figures to be on the soft side again as Warleigh seeks his third stakes win of the year against a field that includes such rivals as Honor In War, winner of the 2003 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. IT) at Churchill Downs, and Erdenheim
Farm's two-time River City winner Dr. Kashnikow.
Asmussen is on the verge of two main goals for the year: surpassing Hall of Famer trainer Jack Van Berg's 1976 record of 496 wins in a single year and becoming the first trainer ever to saddle 500 winners in a year. Asmussen had collected 490 wins as of late Friday. Jockey John McKee will ride Warleigh, the 3-1 morning line favorite who will carry 116 pounds and has drawn the rail post.
Honor In War would likely have been the morning line choice for the River City off his strong runner-up finish to Nothing to Lose in Keeneland's Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. IT). But he followed that race with a last place finish behind River City rival Quest Star in a Nov. 5 prep race.
Trainer Paul J. McGee's 6-year-old son of Lord At War was suffering from a slight lung infection following that disappointing effort, but has trained well since and tuned up for the River City with a sharp four-furlong workout in :48 4/5 over the grass course on Tuesday.
Pat Day will ride the 7-2 second choice, which will carry high weight of 118 pounds.
Dr. Kashnikow won the River City in 2001 and 2002, but illness forced the gray son of El Gran Senor to miss a bid to win a third consecutive running of the race last year. Trainer Dr. John R.S. Fisher's 7-year-old gelding returned to form in winning the Cliffhanger (gr. IIIT) at the Meadowlands last month.
$150,000-added River City Handicap (gr. IIIT), 3 & up, 1 1/8 miles (turf)
Post/Horse (Weight), Jockey, ML Odds
1. Warleigh (116), John McKee, 3-1
2. G P Fleet (114), Eddie Martin, Jr., 15-1
3. French Lieutenant (113), Simon Husbands, 20-1
4. Dr. Kashnikow (117), Brice Blanc, 6-1
5. Ay Caramba (115), Manoel Cruz, 12-1
6. Honor In War (118), Pat Day, 7-2
7. Dumaani Star (114), Bill Troilo, 30-1
8. False Promises (116), Eduardo Perez, 30-1
9. Tam's Terms (116), Carlos Marquez, Jr., 8-1
10. Prince Prado (113), Daniel Coa, 8-1
11. Quest Star (116), Larry Melancon, 6-1
12. Cloudy's Knight (114), Chris Emigh, 10-1
13. Deputy Strike (113), Eddie Martin, Jr., 15-1