Tijiyr, morning line favorite for the River City Handicap.

Tijiyr, morning line favorite for the River City Handicap.

Tijiyr Tops Field for River City Handicap

Main track stars Guided Tour and Keats have provided much of the firepower for Niall O'Callaghan in the finest season of his training career, but one of the early stars of his career year is set to make a comeback in Sunday's $150,000-added River City Handicap (grade III) at Churchill Downs and could take the trainer's finest year to a new level.

Irish-bred Tijiyr, winner of the Explosive Bid Handicap (gr. II) for O'Callaghan at the Fair Grounds in February, returns to competition after a six-month layoff to face seven rivals in the 24th running of the River City, a 1 1/8-miles turf event for 3-year-olds and up. The race is the featured eighth event on a 10-race Sunday card at Churchill Downs.

Tijyr's only previous race over the Churchill Downs turf course came in a sixth-place finish behind White Heart in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. I) on Kentucky Derby Day. He suffered a chipped bone in an ankle during his next start in the Manhattan Handicap (gr. I) in June at Belmont Park. Surgery was required to remove the chip which put Tijiyr on the shelf for the summer and early fall. O'Callaghan had originally planned for the 5-year-old to make his return in an allowance earlier in the week, but decided to gamble that Tijiyr was fit enough in his first race back to compete with a strong group of turf stars in the River City. The colt was not an original nominee to the race, so O'Callaghan's decision required that he pay $7,500 to make Tijiyr a supplemental nominee.

"We'll take a shot," said O'Callaghan. "If he needs one, he needs one. But I think he's pretty close and he's feeling good and doing good. I think he's ready for a decent effort."

O'Callaghan has already saddled winners of nearly $3.7 million this year and has far exceeded his previous best year of 1999, in which his horses won $2.4 million. He believes Tijiyr is ready to add to that total, but he said the true test will come in the race.

"It's like a big football player -- sometimes it takes them a couple of games to get going," he said. "He's a heavy horse -- a big, strong, good-doing horse. Sometimes they take a race -- and therein lies the problem for me and the bettors: Is he ready? But I think he's fairly close."

Tijiyr has a career record of 3-7-3 in 15 starts with earnings of $496,784. The River City highweight at 117 pounds, Tijiyr is the 5-2 morning line favorite will be ridden by Pat Day.

Other major contenders in the River City include Erdenheim Farm's Dr. Kashnikow, the 3-1 second choice and winner of the Fourstardave (gr. II) at Saratoga; Bruce Barton and Alvin Haynes' Arlington Handicap (gr. III) winner Make No Mistake; Live Oak Plantation's Strategic Mission, winner of the Fort Marcy (gr. III), and Carolyn Friedberg's Minor Wisdom, winner of the Kentucky Cup Mile.