Churchill Downs’ final stakes race for older horses on turf in 2014 attracted a field of 11 horses, but it’s the Dale Romans’ trained duo of Grade I-winning millionaire Silver Max and “horse for the course” stablemate Guys Reward that figure to draw most of the pre-race attention in Saturday’s 37th running of the $100,000-added River City Handicap (Grade III).
The 1 1/8-mile River City is the featured event on a 10-race program that begins with the first race at 12:40 p.m. (EST). The River City is the day’s ninth race with a scheduled post time of 4:37 p.m.
Mark Bacon and Dana Wells’ Silver Max is best-known for his upset of eventual Horse of the Year Wise Dan in last year’s Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland, which was moved from the grass to the Lexington track’s former Polytrack surface because of heavy rain. But the 5-year-old son of Badge of Silver’s list of accomplishments include a victory in his 2014 debut in Churchill Downs’ Firecracker (GII) and a 2013 worksheet that also included a fourth-place finish behind Wise Dan in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (GI) at Santa Anita and stakes victories in the Saratoga’s Bernard Baruch (GII) and Monmouth Park’s Oceanport (GIII).
Romans’ star will be seeking his 11th career stakes victory in the River City and a good run Saturday would push his career earnings past the $2 million mark. Silver Max has a lifetime record of 12-5-1 in 21 races and a current bankroll of $1,953,598. He has won twice in three starts at Churchill Downs, victories that include the 2012 American Turf (GIII) and the 2014 Opening Verse overnight stakes. His only loss beneath the Twin Spires was a fourth-place run behind Wise Dan in the 2013 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI).
Regular jockey Robby Albarado will ride Silver Max, who was assigned top weight of 123 pounds and breaks from post six.
Michael Bruder’s Guys Reward will start immediately to the inside of his stablemate after drawing post five in the River City. His 119-pound impost includes Corey Lanerie, the leading jockey of the Fall Meet, and his career record points to the 7-year-old son of Grand Reward as a major River City contender on his own merits.
Guys Reward has a career record of 9-5-11 with earnings of $789,619 that include a July victory in the Oceanport Handicap (GIII) at Monmouth Park. But he has enjoyed his greatest success at Churchill Downs where he has compiled a record of 5-1-4 in 13 races and collected $348,667 of his overall earnings total. His best efforts at his home track include a triumph in the 2012 Firecracker (GII), the 2012 Opening Verse overnight stakes and a narrow loss in the 2011 Louisville Handicap (GIII), in which he was beaten two noses in a three-horse photo finish by the victorious Keertana and runner-up Bearpath.
Trainer Charlie LoPresti, best known for his work as trainer of Wise Dan, will also saddle a pair of contenders in the River City in Eutrophia Farm’s Set the Sail and Gainesway Stable’s Villandry, who finished second and fourth, respectively, behind 45-1 longshot winner Potomac Ridge in last year’s running of the River City.
Villandry scored his only win of 2014 in a Churchill Downs allowance race and finished third to Holiday Star in his most recent outing in Keeneland’s 1 ½-mile Sycamore (GIII). The 5-year-old son of Mr. Greeley has a record of 2-1-0 in five starts at Churchill Downs, including a narrow loss to Regally Ready in this year’s Opening Verse. Set the Sail, whose lone win of 2014 came via disqualification in a Saratoga allowance race, has strong record of 3-2-0 in eight career races at Churchill Downs.
Other possible contenders in the River City Handicap include Live Oak Plantation’s Under Control (BRZ), a Graham Motion-trained son of Northern Afleet who finished third to Guys Reward in the Oceanport and was runner-up to Legendary in the Japan Racing Association Stakes at Laurel Park; Sam-Son Farm’s Aldous Snow, winner of Woodbine’s Singspiel (GIII) for trainer Malcolm Pierce; and Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Gentleman’s Kitten, a homebred 4-year-old son of Kitten’s Joy who won the Cliff Gulliams Handicap at Ellis Park for trainer Mike Maker.
The field for the River City Handicap from the hedge out (with jockey, weight): R. Great Adventure (Miguel Mena, 115), Gentleman’s Kitten (Rafael Hernandez, 115), Set the Sail (Shaun Bridgmohan, 114), Villandry (Julien Leparoux, 118), Guys Reward (Lanerie, 119), Silver Max (Albarado, 123), Greengrassofyoming (Brian Hernandez Jr., 116), Hamp (Javier Santiago, 115), Aldous Snow (Joseph Rocco Jr., 117), Dramedy (Calvin Borel, 112) and Under Control (BRZ) (Alex Cintron, 115).