Gainesway Stable’s 5-year-old gelding Villandry took the lead from front-running favorite Silver Max at the top of the stretch and powered home to win Saturday’s 37th running of the $114,000 River City Handicap (Grade III) at Churchill Downs by 2 ¾ lengths over longshot Hamp.
Villandry, ridden by Julien Leparoux and trained by Charlie LoPresti, ran 1 1/8 miles over a firm Matt Winn Turf Course in 1:48.54 to collect his first graded stakes win in an 18-race career. Overall, it was the Kentucky-bred son of Mr. Greeley’s fifth victory, and the $66,439 first prize jumped his career earnings to $258,204.
Silver Max, the seven-time graded stakes winner who was sent to post as the 4-5 favorite and 123-pound high weight, led the field of 11 older horses, as expected, through early fractions of :24.28, :47.77 and 1:11.95. Villandry was well placed in the early stages about four lengths back of the leader. Leparoux fanned the chestnut wide and into contention on the final turn, took command at the top of the stretch and drew away from the field for the runaway victory.
Villandry, who carried 118 pounds as the 4-1 second betting choice, paid $10.60, $4.80 and $4. Hamp, a 37-1 outsider with Javier Santiago up and 115 pounds, returned $23 and $13.60. Brazilian-bred Under Control was another 2 ½ lengths back in third with Alex Cintron and 116 pounds aboard and paid $6.
Guys Reward, the LoPresti-trained Set the Sail, Silver Max, Dramedy, Gentlemen’s Kitten, Greengrassofyoming, R. Great Adventure and Aldous Snow completed the order of finish.
The River City was Villandry’s second victory of the year. In May, he scored in a Churchill Downs allowance race on turf. More recently, he was third to Holiday Star in the 1 ½-mile Sycamore (GIII) over soft going at Keeneland on Oct. 16.
Racing at Churchill Downs continues Sunday with 10-race card that begins at 12:40 p.m. ET.
RIVER CITY HANDICAP QUOTES
JULIEN LEPAROUX, trainer of Villandry (winner) – “We had a great trip. He broke well and put me in the race very nicely. All I had to do was get around two horses when we entered the turn and he did that and finished out strong. He always kind of breaks okay but always breaks a little bit further back and it’s hard for him to make it up. I think keeping him a little closer helped him today; he was just driving really well all the way around. We’re happy to get the win.”
CHARLIE LOPRESTI, trainer of Villandry (winner) – “It means a lot, it really does. We liked our other horse, Set the Sail, a lot in this race too; he was close last year in this same race when he finished second. Seeing them coming around the turn, I thought they might run 1-2. But it means a lot, we’ve always thought this horse was worthy of a graded stakes win and he proved himself today. We had a great trip. Julien (Leparoux) did a nice job and we’re just happy for him to finally get it. Hopefully he’ll continue to improve and be back even better next year.”
DALE ROMANS, trainer of Silver Max (6th as the favorite) – “He had it all his own way. He’s just not the same horse, I guess. You know, he doesn’t owe us anything – he’s been awfully good to us. He’s got 12 wins and made a lot of money. We’ve had a lot of fun. We’ll just have to sit down and talk about his future. Hopefully I’ll train some of his babies someday.”
IGNACIO CORREAS IV, trainer of HAMP (runner-up) – “I was expecting something like that. He was training very, very good.He has a very particular style: he comes from dead-last or really close to that. So we needed a little speed. But he didn’t surprise me. I’m very happy. He’s such a nice horse and great to be around. We’re really proud of him.”
ALEX CINTRON, jockey on UNDER CONTROL (BRZ) (third) – “I got a good trip. I think he made a good run. I didn’t think he was going to beat the winner, but I thought we had a chance to be second-best. I thought he ran a good race.”