Sean Shay and Michael Ryan's Hunter O'Riley was able to run down Zulu Alpha in the final sixteenth of Saturday's Grade 1 United Nations Stakes, earning his first top-level score at the age of six. The gelded son of Tiz Wonderful, ridden by Paco Lopez for trainer Jimmy Toner, covered 1 3/8 miles over Monmouth Park's “good” turf course in 2:17.10. A 14-1 chance on the board, Hunter O'Riley defeated 7-1 Zulu Alpha by about a half-length on the line, while 9-5 favorite Channel Cat finished in third.
“A super ride by Paco. He kept him there,” Toner said. “This horse has a tendency to take himself out of races. Paco saved ground all the way and he was with the field and then when he hit the turn and tipped out – I thought he might have tipped out a little too far – but once he tipped out he made a good run the last part of it. He rode a tremendous race on him. (The instructions were) save as much ground with him as you can all the way but when you get around tip outside. He runs better on the outside. He couldn't have followed orders any better than that.”
Hunter O'Riley was near the rear of the field in the early going as Arrocha strode out to set measured early fractions of :25.29 and :50.36. Monarchs Glen made an early move around the first turn to be second, while Catcho en Die was comfortably traveling in third position down the stretch for the first time.
The field began to bunch up rounding the far turn a second time, and the always forwardly-placed Zulu Alpha got a dream trip through rivals to take the lead near the head of the stretch. Hunter O'Riley was wide on the course and moving well in the final sixteenth of a mile, however, and got up in time to snatch the victory at the wire. Zulu Alpha had to settle for second, while Channel Cat finished third.
“Jimmy Toner told whatever you want to do go do, just don't stay on the rail and don't stay inside. He said stay outside,” Lopez relayed. “I was worried a little bit about the slow fractions but my horse in the first turn was very comfortable. Jimmy asked me to rate him and keep him in a good position. At a half mile I started to get him outside and then when I asked him to run he really gave me what he has. I had good position the whole way. I liked where I was. He fired a little slowly but then he got rolling.”
Bred in Kentucky by Mike Rutherford, Hunter O'Riley was a $120,000 yearling at the Keeneland September sale, but commanded just $50,000 at the Fasig-Tipton juvenile sale the next May. Prior to the United Nations, the gelding had not won a race since July of 2017, but his record now stands at 5-2-4 from 22 starts for earnings of over $600,000.
“After the race at Keeneland (in April 2018) and that fall when he came back he had some issues and we had to give him some time off,” Toner explained. “It was a little longer than we thought it would be. Then next thing you know you look up and it's almost a year before he runs again. We got him back this winter. His first start back was good. Then his last race at Keeneland he was too far back. That's what I meant about him; he costs himself most of the time. He always makes a run but sometimes he leaves himself with too much to do. This race, he wasn't 15 or 20 lengths back. That was the key.”
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