Saturday, December 31, 2011 12:00 AM
FLORENCE, Ky., Dec. 31, 2011 – River Bear took advantage of a wicked pace and a smart ride by Timothy Thornton to win the $50,000 Holiday Cheer Stakes at Turfway Park Saturday, clearing the field to be best by five lengths. Live From Appollo got the nod in a three-way photo for second, finishing a head better than Conchacer, who was another head better than Golden Country.
Under heavy pressure from Too Wild for Words, Conchacer set the first quarter-mile in :21.63 before dropping back into third. Too Wild for Words took the lead before the half-mile and set that mark at :44.51 but could not hold his speed and stopped. In the meantime, Thornton was guiding River Bear through the field, moving steadily from about six lengths off the lead to narrow the gap to two lengths at the half-mile mark. As the field turned for home with horses fanned out from the rail eight wide, Thornton cleared the crowd from the five path, led into the stretch, and drew away. Final time for the six furlongs was 1:09.78.
River Bear had raced only once before at Turfway, finishing second in last year's Holiday Cheer.
"He threw a shoe last year but he still ran really good," said trainer Rusty Hellman. "The timing worked out good to bring him here. He's a consistent horse on any surface—maybe not as much on turf, but other than that he's run good on everything."
Thornton came in from his base in Chicago to ride River Bear, his only mount on the card.
"I had [opportunity for] a lot of mounts in Chicago today but I chose to come here," said Thornton. "He's one of my favorite horses. We knew the race was tough. Going into it we knew there was a ton of speed, and I was kind of worried because speed's been holding all day. I had a good, clean trip. I came from way back and snuck through the middle turning for home and left them behind. I was able to weave my way through traffic and didn’t have to go too wide."
Behind Golden Country were Matthewsburg, Taptowne, El Gran Sol, Our Rock Star, Pathoki, Hollywood Hit, and Too Wild for Words. Plutonium and Tend were scratched by their trainers. Hollywood Hit, the 2-1 favorite, stumbled leaving the gate.
Fourth choice at 9-2, River Bear paid $11.80, $6.80, and $4.80. Live From Appollo paid $15.80 and $6.60. Conchacer paid $4.40.
River Bear, who will turn seven on Sunday, was bred in Illinois by his owner, Dana Waier Thoroughbreds LLC, and is by Unreal Zeal out of Jabber, by Minneapple. He has 13 wins, eight seconds, and six thirds in 43 career starts and earnings of $588,915. The Holiday Cheer is his fifth blacktype win.
Racing continues Sunday, the start of the 2012 Winter/Spring Meet and the return of Turfway's usual post time schedule: 1:10 p.m. on Sunday and 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.