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River's Prayer wins Princess Rooney Handicap


Last updated 10/4/2007 at Noon

River’s Prayer, a four-year-old filly stabled at the San Luis Rey Downs Thoroughbred Training Center and bred by Vessels Stallion Farm, won the Grade I Princess Rooney Handicap at Miami’s Calder track July 7.

River’s Prayer, who was ridden by jockey Clinton Potts, finished half a length in front of second-place Shaggy Mane in the six-furlong stakes race for fillies and mares three years old and upward. She had a winning time of 1:10.66.

“Major milestone,” trainer and part-owner Paula Capestro said of River’s Prayer earning her first win in a Grade I stakes race. “I was just so impressed with her.”

The Princess Rooney Handicap was the 15th career race for River’s Prayer, who had won seven of her previous 14 races. The Florida competition was the fifth Grade I stakes race for River’s Prayer.

“As a two-year-old I was convinced of it,” Capestro said of the possibility of River’s Prayer winning a Grade I stakes race. “As a three-year-old I didn’t know for sure, and as a four-year-old I became convinced.”

River’s Prayer won her first two races, both at Hollywood Park in 2005, before finishing second in the ungraded Landaluce Stakes that year in Hollywood Park. She had led for most of the six-furlong Landaluce Stakes before finishing second by three-quarters of a length.

Her first Grade I stakes race was the Del Mar Debutante in 2005, in which she finished third. She then was shipped to Belmont Park for the Grade I Matron stakes race, where she finished fifth.

River’s Prayer ran one more race in 2005 before a nine-month lay-up. She returned to win the Fleet Treat stakes at Del Mar in July 2006. She also won the Cal Cup Dash in October 2006 at Santa Anita but finished last in both in the Grade I Matriarch Stakes at Hollywood Park in November and the Grade I La Brea Stakes at Santa Anita the following month.

The Santa Anita turf course involves a crossover onto the dirt track. “I was a little concerned about her handling that crossing. She just loved it,” Capestro said.

The La Brea Stakes is currently the most recent loss for River’s Prayer. She won the Irish O’Brien Stakes at Santa Anita in March, the Grade III Las Cienegas Handicap at Santa Anita in April, and the Great Lady Handicap at Hollywood Park on June 14.

Capestro had a choice between shipping River’s Prayer to Calder or running a race at Hollywood Park, which had just installed the Cushion Track synthetic surface. “I was going to pass the Calder race, but I knew River’s Prayer could not handle the Cushion Track,” Capestro said.

The Great Lady Handicap at Hollywood Park was run on the turf, and her two previous races of 2007 were also turf races. The Princess Rooney Handicap entrants raced on the dirt.

The Princess Rooney Handicap had some other advantages. The total purse of $500,000 meant that the winner’s 60 percent share equated to $300,000. “It not only had a big purse, it was a graded stakes,” Capestro said.

Capestro believes that River’s Prayer is suitable for competition in the Breeders’ Cup, which this year will be held October 26-27 at Monmouth Park in New Jersey. The Breeders’ Cup will have a two-day format for the first time in its history and one of the October 26 races added to the Breeders’ Cup is the six-furlong Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. Up to 14 horses will be allowed in that race, and selection will be determined by winnings in graded stakes races during 2007.

The Princess Rooney Handicap is the highest-purse Grade I race for fillies and mares. “The timing was good and the purse was good,” Capestro said.

The Breeders’ Cup consideration gave Capestro another reason to enter River’s Prayer in the Princess Rooney Handicap. “If we were going to go to the Breeders’ Cup we needed to find out if we could beat some of the best fillies in the country,” Capestro said.

Nine fillies and four mares raced in the Princess Rooney Handicap. “All those fillies were good fillies,” Capestro said. “Every one of those fillies I considered a threat, a real legitimate threat.”

At the time River’s Prayer was entered, Capestro was unsure whether River’s Prayer would actually win the Princess Rooney Handicap. “I thought we’d be right there,” Capestro said.

Capestro didn’t know whether River’s Prayer could actually beat the other horses. “All these horses are really good,” she said. “They all came in with higher Beyers than we did.”

(The Beyer ratings are issued after each race and take into consideration the horse’s performance against other competitors and the optimum track times.)

Calder also paid for an airline flight to ship River’s Prayer to Florida; the horse and trainer left three days before the July 7 race. The Florida humidity forced the veterinarian to administer electrolytes shortly after the filly’s arrival. “When you sweat a lot you need to replace those minerals,” Capestro said.

The dehydration didn’t affect the filly’s eating habits. “She just never stopped eating,” Capestro said. “Never missed a kernel of grain.”

River’s Prayer soon adjusted to Florida, but race day posed its own meteorological problems. Thunderstorms postponed the races prior to that day’s second race. “They were under water,” Capestro said. “It was a little bit spooky to go over there.”

The Princess Rooney Handicap was the card’s eleventh race, and the track was in better condition by the time River’s Prayer and Potts received the call to the post.

Potts had ridden River’s Prayer for her previous eight races. “They get along so well,” Capestro said.

The only words Capestro gave to Potts before the race were “take no prisoners.” Potts and River’s Prayer took care of the rest of the strategy.

“He just wants to get his horse to relax,” Capestro said of Potts.

“He started sending her around the turn and she got out a little bit,” Capestro said. “He just engaged her to run and she did the rest all by herself.”

River’s Prayer broke first among the 13 horses and was second, a head behind Shaggy Mane, as the race completed one-quarter of a mile, half a mile, and the entrance to the stretch. River’s Prayer took the lead in the stretch. “She knows what her job is,” Capestro said.

Capestro also credits Potts for the win. “He was perfect,” Capestro said.

After her return to California, River’s Prayer spent two days at San Luis Rey Downs before being treated in a hyperbaric chamber.

River’s Prayer was foaled on February 26, 2003. Her sire was Devon Lane and her dam was Cozzy Flyer. BC Thoroughbreds purchased River’s Prayer from Vessels Stallion Farm as a yearling for the price of $15,000.

Capestro and her husband, Andy, were part of a group who purchased River’s Prayer from BC Thoroughbreds for $250,000; the current ownership also includes the Dallas-based Martin Racing Stable and the Bantry Farms ownership of Pasadena’s Jim and Michael Ewing.

Although some of the winnings have been consumed through jockey pay and other expenses, the $300,000 earned for winning the Princess Rooney Handicap brought the lifetime earnings of River’s Prayer to $801,957.

The earnings from the stakes race also increase the chances that River’s Prayer will compete in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. “We’re committed to trying it unless something happens,” Capestro said. “I hope it works out.”


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