April 15, 2024

Hunter O’Riley swoops from last to upset Bowling Green

Hunter O'Riley edges Bigger Picture by a neck to notch his first stakes win in the Bowling Green (Photo courtesy NYRA/Coglianese Photography/Joe Labozzetta)

Overlooked as the 16-1 longest shot on the board, Sean Shay and Michael Ryan’s Hunter O’Riley pounced late to earn his first career stakes victory in Saturday’s $250,000 Bowling Green (G2) at Saratoga. Jockey Florent Geroux was a study in patience as he produced the James Toner trainee in the final strides to prevail over Bigger Picture and Sadler’s Joy.

Hunter O’Riley was receiving eight pounds from 124-pound highweight Bigger Picture, and six from both Sadler’s Joy and 9-5 favorite Ascend, who tired to fourth. In addition to the weight, the Bowling Green pace scenario ended up working against the principals.

Although Closing Bell toured the opening quarter in :25.87 on the firm inner turf, the pace then began to lift as Hello Don Julio took over at the half in :49.78. The third quarter moderated, resulting in a six-furlong split in 1:14.16, but the next two quarters were a stiffer :23 and change. That’s precisely when Ascend advanced to apply pressure at the mile mark in 1:37.72 and made his move in earnest swinging into the stretch.

Sadler’s Joy, meanwhile, was uncorking a bold circling move in the teeth of that fastest fifth quarter. Taking the overland route while covering 34 feet more than the eventual winner (according to Trakus), Sadler’s Joy mowed down Ascend in midstretch and appeared to have the race in hand.

Then Bigger Picture, who’d saved ground throughout and cut the corner for home, tipped out to challenge. And Hunter O’Riley, a ground-saving last in the initial stages, likewise erupted after angling wider out. They in turn collared a stalling Sadler’s Joy, with Hunter O’Riley besting Bigger Picture by a neck.

By reeling off a final furlong in a shade over :11, Hunter O’Riley negotiated 1 3/8 miles in 2:12.94 and rewarded his loyalists with a $34.60 win payout. Bigger Picture was a neck up on Sadler’s Joy as the top three were well clear. Ascend, a further 3 1/4 lengths astern in fourth, fared best of those attending the early pace. Hello Don Julio and Frank Conversation concluded the order under the wire. Closing Bell did not finish the race but walked off the course.

Hunter O’Riley’s career highlight improved his scorecard to 15-4-2-4, $361,460. Trained by Joe Sharp as a juvenile, the Tiz Wonderful ridgling broke his maiden third time out in an off-the-turf affair at Churchill Downs. He tried the Remsen (G2), checking in seventh, and subsequently switched to Toner ahead of his sophomore season. After clearing his entry-level allowance condition in a romp, again in a race that had been rained off the turf at Belmont, he finished third in the Gio Ponti S. at Aqueduct and in the two-mile H. Allen Jerkens at Gulfstream.

A belated sixth in the 1 1/2-mile W.L. McKnight (G3), Hunter O’Riley reverted to allowance company over the same trip at Keeneland and just got up in time. He stepped up to two miles once more for the June 9 Belmont Gold Cup, where he was left too much to do and rallied out wide for fifth. Cutting back suited him here.

Bred by Mike G. Rutherford in Kentucky, Hunter O’Riley sold for $120,000 as a Keeneland September yearling, but brought $50,000 as a two-year-old in training at Fasig-Tipton Midlantic May. The bay is the first registered foal from the unraced Bernardini mare Oblige, a half-sister to stakes scorer Gangbuster and to Grade 1-placed Glorified. This is also the family of Grade 1 winner Diplomat Lady.

Quotes from Saratoga

Winning trainer Jimmy Toner on Hunter O’Riley: “I had confidence going in. He tries every time he runs, so it’s like we get a piece of it every time he runs. We figured we finish third or fourth today. [It’s] a good effort and we’ll look for something after that. He closed well, and he tries. You’re going get that breakout race, and today was that breakout race, so we’re really excited.”

Winning rider Florent Geroux: “I had a great trip. We work nicely together. He’s always been a fine nice horse. We weren’t going that fast but by the second quarter, everybody was looking at each other, and there was nothing going on. There was pushing; trying to get each other out of the way, and I was just sitting back there.”

Jockey Joe Bravo on runner-up Bigger Picture: “The horse ran really well from the start and finished strong. He [came] up just short in the end but racing in a big race such as that I really commend the animal for how he ran.”

Bigger Picture’s trainer Mike Maker: “He ran great as always and we were second best today. Thrilling race. I thought we’d get there but didn’t quite today.”