Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Forgotten Champion

It is not easy to win The Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes for any horse. Thunder Gulch accomplished this in 1995, but even he is better remembered currently than another horse that did it and was a champion also. Riva Ridge turned the trick in 1972, which unfortunately for him was the year before his stablemate, Secretariat, turned the horse racing world on its ear. It was also the year after the unlikely Canonero II, the "Caracas Cannonball", came out of nowhere to win the Derby and Preakness and enthral the entire country with his and his connection's escapades.

Riva Ridge had the identical connections to Secretariat. He was owned the Chenery's Meadow Stable, trained by Lucien Laurin, and ridden by Ron Turcotte. Of course, he wore the same blue and white block silks of Secretariat for this reason. His only apparent flaw was that he did not like the slop. This cost him the Triple Crown in 1972 because it rained on Preakness Day. He never got a hold of the racetrack and finished a dull fourth behind longshot winner, Bee Bee Bee. Riva Ridge goes down as one of the great "What Ifs?" in sports. What if it hadn't rained? What if he had a chance to run his best race?

Riva Ridge's reputation also suffers from the fact that he lost to both of the champion Thoroughbreds I mentioned in the first paragraph. In his three-year-old season, he went down to Canonero II in what was the Venezuelan's last great performance in the Stymie Handicap. In his four-year-old season, Secretariat handled his stablemate in the Marlboro Cup, a race specfically set up to test the two against each other. Riva Ridge won seventeen of thirty lifetime races and hit the board in four others. He totalled over $1 million dollars in lifetime earnings. He should not be forgotten by any stretch of the imagination. He was a great horse that just had the misfortune of coming along in a decade that produced many great horses and many great stories.

Tune in again tomorrow for thoughts on the Blue Grass Stakes and Arkansas Derby races this weekend. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!
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