Saturday, September 17, 2011

Riding the River: Off the bench and into the trenches

If Riding the River was a hockey player, he'd be a grinder. The horse is something of a Bob Gainey, if you will. A third-line player who skates hard, gets into the corners and neautralizes the opposition's best player, night after night. A player like that isn't supposed to get the headlines, but every so often, they pop up with a game-changing goal and spark an upset.

Keep your head up around Riding the River

In the 1985-86 season, Gainey scored 20 goals while playing in all 80 regular season games for the Montreal Canadiens. He was a leader throughout the playoffs notching five more goals, and adding five assists, through 20 playoff games while playing on a line with Guy Carbonneau and Chris Nilan.

Finesse players like Mats Naslund, Bobby Smith and Stephane Richer were expected to 'win' the games, but this particluar squad got by on its ability to grind. Rough and tumble types like Claude Lemieux, Mike McPhee and Brian Skrudland had a lot to do with how this particular Canadiens squad won hockey games, and ultimately, the Stanley Cup.

1986 Stanley Cup Final - Game 5

Riding the River's trainer David Cotey, the man who uncovered Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, knows his horse isn't afraid to battle along the boards.

"He doesnt mind being covered up and knocked around," says Cotey.

In his most recent effort, a heart-breaking loss in the Grade 2 Play the King, Riding the River endured a playoff-game type trip. The program notes read, 'blocked, rallied, missed', but he didn't stop working and got up for second, defeated a head, by Havelock.

"He should have won his last race," grits Cotey. "It should have been ours. He was blocked off and bumped, and had to go through a hole a mouse wouldn't fit through. He's got a lot of pump. Maybe we'll get a little luckier this time and, who knows, maybe we'll get a piece of it."

Riding the River ready to rock

The bay gelding is a son of the steady, if unspectacular, stallion Wiseman's Ferry.

"I bought him at Fasig Tipton and I only paid $3,500 for him," recalls Cotey. "I bought him on looks. He was a really nice well blanced good looking horse. I just bought him off looks basically."

As good as he looked, Riding the River took his time getting used to the racetrack life. He didn't make it to the races until his three-year-old year and Cotey, and his right-hand man Paul Bhupaul, recall a younger, meaner version of the professional who has banked $234,867 in just 11 races.

Riding the River grinds home second in the Play the King

"We used to have a rule around here that if a rider fell off our horse, he had to buy a case of beer," starts Cotey. "There was one rider who got on him for two days. He got on him twice and River dropped him both times."

Cotey and Bhupaul share a knowing glance before the conditioner delivers the line.

"The rider picked himself up and said, 'I can't afford to ride this horse no more.'", laughs Cotey.

"It cost him four cases of beer and a bucket of chicken," adds Bhupaul with a wide grin.

Riding the River with linemates Cotey and Bhupaul

Cotey, as the coach of this hard-knocking team, points to Paul, or 'Bhupie', as he refers to his friend and co-worker, as a key part of the development of the gelding.

"He's worked relentlessly on him and deserves a lot of credit for the way this horse is right now," nods Cotey.

And it's taken a fair amount of work to get the horse to where he is now.

"He didn't make it as a two-year-old, as he had little problems," says Cotey. "And as a three-year-old, he trained like he'd be able to win races but I didn't think he'd be this type of horse or I wouldn't have run him for $16,000."

It takes teamwork to win a championship

Looking at where Riding the River is now, a logical contender in local stakes races, and a live long shot in Graded events, it's hard to believe he was available for such a price at first asking.

"That day he won by 6 or 8 lengths over the Poly," says Cotey. "He went very easy and in a very fast time. Every race he's improved. We ran him for $40,000 in his second start and he won in a very fast time again so we knew that he was a little better type horse."

Riding the River in the pregame

Cotey believed the horse would excel on the turf, but he had a difficult time introducing Riding the River to the lawn.

"We didn't get to run him on the turf as a three-year-old," says Cotey. "We entered him once, but they ended up taking it off the grass so we ended up running a mile and a sixteenth against older horses on the Poly. He won that in 1:44 flat. For a young horse to beat older horses, you'd think he's a little bit special anyway."

Riding the River made his turf debut this June in an optional claiming event and he won in typical rugged style. The race notes read, 'split foes, bumped, driving'. An apt description of how the gelding got up just in time to defeat Kid Canuck by a head.

"When we did finally get running him on the turf this year, he run well like we thought he would," smiles Cotey. "He has a real burst of speed. He's progressed."

Since then, it's been all added-money races for the gritty bay. He was a rallying fourth, defeated less than two lengths, in the Grade 2 Highlander Stakes. A month later he was an all-out third on the Polytrack, when chasing home the speedy Hollywood Hit and Signature Red in the Bold Venture. And his last effort, a hustling and bustling charge to the wire in the Play the King, confirms Riding the River's status as a prominent racehorse.

Riding the River's rider for his million-dollar run is journeyman Richard Dos Ramos. A local Woodbine turf writer coined the phase, 'getting rich and famous with Richard Dos Ramos' after a number of well-paid scores over the years, and it should be noted that Dos Ramos has won this race previously with another longshot - - Benburb. In 1992, the Woodbine Mile was known as the Molson Million and Dos Ramos picked up the mount on Benburb when regular rider Larry Attard was hurt.

Dos Ramos and Riding the River prepare for battle

The race, then run over a mile and an eighth on the main track, featured A. P Indy. Deep in the stretch, with A.P Indy out of contention, Benburb surged between Alydeed, Vying Victor and Technology to vie for the lead. Elated Guy was closing like a train on the outside, but Dos Ramos got Benburb to the wire in time for a famous victory. "I just kept on riding and he just shot through," recalls Dos Ramos. "We crossed the wire and I thought, ‘holy jumpin' I hope this isn’t a dream!’"

(Click this link for more on Benburb and Thornfield)

Dos Ramos would later win another high-stakes race, the 1999 Canadian International with Thornfield, the longest shot on the board. It's safe to say that Cotey is happy to go to post with the veteran in the irons.

"Richard has a lot of experience in these races," says Cotey. "He doesn't get too flustered. He knows where he wants to be, and he seems to move at the right time and do the right things. They get knocking around in those turf races. All three races over the turf, Richard twice and Luis (Contreras) once, we got knocked around and bumped around. He hasn't had a nice trip yet, but I don't blame it on the jockeys. It's just a horse race, but I know Richard won't panic. He's been here umpteen times."

Cotey, Bhupaul and Dos Ramos will all hope for a dream run on Sunday and the conditioner has faith in his warrior.

"He's an honest horse and he always goes over there and runs his race," says Cotey. "I wish the rest of our stable would try like him. He's got a real work ethic over there. He goes over and does his best, it's all you can ask for really."

And even though winning the Woodbine Mile would be a Stanley Cup type victory for Cotey, the conditioner has a more romantic notion of why a win by Riding the River would be special.

"It would be nice for the horse. he really deserves it becuase he tries his heart out," says Cotey. "And it would be nice for people thinking of getting into the game that you could buy a horse for the low end of the totem pole price and go on and win a big stake, something like Mine That Bird did."

Cotey's horse will go to post at odds of 20-1 in Sunday's Woodbine Mile, but the fancy shippers and well-bred winners will want to keep their head up when Riding the River comes charging down the lane, because this grinder won't back down when the money is on the line.

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Come out and support LongRun Thoroughbred Retirement Society on Richoh Woodbine Mile Day!

If you are coming to the races on Sunday, be sure to stop by and visit with Alex Brown, a former Woodbine-based exercise rider, who will be coming to Woodbine in support of his new book “Greatness and Goodness: Barbaro and his Legacy”.

"$10.00 from the sale of each book while Brown is at Woodbine will be going towards “Cool Selection” – a racehorse that LongRun retired and has been sponsoring in conjunction with The Exceller Fund in Kentucky and The Oaklahoma Retirement Program, where Cool Selection has become a much-loved resident! Alex is very happy to be donating this money towards Mr. “Cool” as he used to gallop him, and still is quite fond of him!"

Brown's book is available on Amazon.Ca. For more information on Brown, check out his website, Alex Brown Racing.

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Still Need More?
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