Sean Shay and Michael Ryan’s Hunter O’Riley surprised the G2 Bowling Green field at 16-1, rolling from last-to-first under Florent Geroux to win by a neck on the wire. The 4-year-old son of Tiz Wonderful, trained by Jimmy Toner, out-legged Bigger Picture in the final sixteenth for the victory, covering 1 3/8 miles over Saratoga’s firm turf in 2:12.94.
“I had confidence going in,” said Toner. “He tries every time he runs so its like we get a piece of it every time he runs. We figured we finish third or fourth today it’ll be a good effort and we’ll look for something after that, meanwhile he closed well, and he tries, it’s like one of those things, you’re going to get that break out race, and today was that breakout race so we’re really excited.”
Hunter O’Riley jumped up instead of out when the starting gate doors opened, then rammed his shoulder into the right side of the gate as he jumped out sideways. Geroux never panicked, waiting for his horse to find his stride underneath him and settling in at the rear of the field.
Meanwhile, Frank Conversation was off the blocks quickly, but wrangled back to third as Closing Bell set a leisurely first quarter fraction of 25.87 seconds. A hard-held Hello Don Julio refused to settle under John Velazquez, and took over the lead coming down the homestretch for the first time to pick up the pace, clocking a half-mile in :49.78. Race favorite Ascend settled into second as Closing Bell dropped back, with Frank Conversation holding sway in third over Bigger Picture and Sadler’s Joy.
After three-quarters in 1:14.16, Hello Don Julio was taken on by Ascend, and those two would turn for home in unison. Bigger Picture ducked to the rail as Sadler’s Joy opted to go outside, and the latter took over the lead from favored Ascend in early stretch.
Though Sadler’s Joy opened up a 1 1/2-length lead at the three-sixteenths pole, the late-running Bigger Picture and Hunter O’Riley both had yet to find their best stride. Geroux had Hunter O’Riley on the far outside and moving very well, though the stubborn Bigger Picture clung right to his side approaching the leading Sadler’s Joy.
Geroux cleverly made the space between his mount and Sadler’s Joy just a bit tight, and Bigger Picture hesitated just long enough to give Hunter O’Riley the edge in the final 100 yards. At the wire it was Hunter O’Riley by a neck over Bigger Picture, with Sadler’s Joy less than a length back in third. Ascend finished fourth.
“I had a great trip,” summarized Geroux. “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.”
Bred in Kentucky by Mike Rutherford, Hunter O’Riley was a $ 120,000 Keeneland September yearling sale purchase, and then was bought by Sean Shay at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-year-old sale for $ 50,000. The horse has been relatively consistent, finishing on or just off the board in the majority of his starts, but the Bowling Green is his first stakes win. Hunter O’Riley’s record now stands at 4-2-4 from 15 starts for earnings of over $ 360,000.
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