Hunter O’Riley Captures United Nations Stakes

Tiz Wonderful gelding posted narrow win over Zulu Alpha in grade 1 turf test.

It had been a while since Hunter O’Riley last visited the winner’s circle, but that hardly mattered June 22 when the 6-year-old gelding returned to top form at a highly opportune time.

Sean Shay and Michael Ryan’s son of Tiz Wonderful rallied strongly in the stretch and recorded a neck victory over Zulu Alpha to capture the $310,000 United Nations Stakes (G1T) at Monmouth Park for his first victory since July 29, 2017.

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“We’re thrilled to get him back in form, and we have some races penciled in for him for the rest of the year that we are very excited about,” trainer Jimmy Toner said. “Coming into this race, he trained as well as he ever has, so I was confident going into the race that he would run good.”

Hunter O’Riley ($30.20) was winless in three 2019 starts before the 66th edition of the U.N., with his best finish a fourth in the Jan. 26 W. L. McKnight Stakes (G3T) at Gulfstream Park. Those were his first starts since he was sidelined by an injury to a ligament in his pastern suffered after a ninth-place finish in Keeneland’s Dixiana Elkhorn Stakes (G2T), his lone outing in 2018.

Toner credited an aggressive ride by Paco Lopez as a key element in the 14-1 victory.

“Paco rode him great. I’m thrilled to death,” Toner said. “He tends to drop into a gallop. He always finishes, but he needs to have someone who keeps him in the race all the way. That was the key to him being able to finish like that.”

Hunter O’Riley was seventh in the field of eight in the early stages while saving ground but then was taken to the outside on the final turn and closed strongly while widest in the stretch to collar Michael Hui’s multiple graded stakes winner Zula Alpha, who had forged to a half-length lead at the eighth pole under Channing Hill.

“At the 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,” said Lopez.

Calumet Farm’s Channel Cat, the 9-5 favorite, was third, a half-length behind Zulu Alpha.

The final time for the 1 3/8 miles on a turf course labeled good was 2:17.10 after early fractions of :25.29, :50:36, 1:16.19, and 1:41.46 set by 22-1 shot Arrocha, who wound up sixth.

The victory was the fifth in 22 starts for Hunter O’Riley and increased his earnings to $620,293.

Hunter O’Riley was bred in Kentucky by Mike Rutherford out of the Bernardini mare Oblige, and was the mare’s first of five foals, the most recent of which was a Union Rags filly born Feb. 15. He was purchased by Shay for $50,000 from Niall Brennan Stables’ consignment at the 2015 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-Year-Olds in Training Sale, after going through the ring for $120,000 to Jarazen Stable from Legacy Bloodstock’s consignment at the 2014 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.

Toner said the next start for Hunter O’Riley would most likely come at Saratoga Race Course in the July 27 Bowling Green Stakes (G2T), which, appropriately enough, served as the gelding’s last win in 2017.