SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY – Despite being the biggest longshot on the board, Sean Shay and Michael J. Ryan’s Hunter O’Riley made a strong move from last to steal the Grade 2, $250,000 Bowling Green Stakes at Saratoga.
“I had confidence going in,” said winning trainer James Toner. “He tries every time he runs, so it’s like we get a piece of it every time he runs. We figured we’d finish third or fourth today. He closed well, and he tries. You’re going to get that break out race, and today was that breakout race, so we’re really excited.”
Sent off at 16/1, Hunter O’Riley and jockey Florent Geroux settled at the rear of the seven-horse field and rode the rail while Hello Don Julio set fractions of :25.87, :49.78, 1:14.16, and 1:37.72 through the first mile. Entering the stretch, Geroux quickened the 4-year-old ridgling while Sadler’s Joy and Ascend took over the lead and began to duel.
“We work nicely together; he’s always been a fine, nice horse,” Geroux said. “We weren’t going that fast, but by the second 1/4 (mile), 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.”
That pair appeared to be heading for a showdown at the wire when, with a furlong to go, Hunter O’Riley found his best strides and teamed up with Bigger Picture to pounce on the leading duo. Hunter O’Riley’s momentum carried him across the wire in first, a neck ahead of Bigger Picture and jockey Joe Bravo.
“The horse ran really well from the start and finished strong,” said Bravo. “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.”
It was another neck back to Sadler’s Joy in third and a 1/2 length more to Ascend. Hello Don Julio and Frank Conversation completed the order of finish. Closing Bell was last after easing up 1 mile into the event but walked off under his own power.
Earning his first graded stakes win in his fourth attempt, Hunter O’Riley’s career earnings nearly doubled (to $361,460) after taking home the $150,000 winner’s share. He was the only horse to be “cutting back” in distance for the 1 3/8-mile Bowling Green, coming off of a fifth-place finish in the Grade 3 Belmont Gold Cup, contested over a marathon 2 miles.
“(The Gold Cup) was the first time we went against some really heavy hitters, and he held his own that day,” said Toner assistant Tiffany Webb. “He came into this race really well physically, and he loves the type of track we’ve had the past couple of days. He’s relished training up here. Some of the horses don’t love that softer track in the mornings, but that’s his favorite track.”
Hunter O’Riley returned $34.60 to win, $12.40 to place, and $6.60 to show. Bigger Picture brought back $5.10 to place and $3.40 to show, while Sadler’s Joy paid $2.60 to show.