Hunter O’Riley ends skid in United Nations

OCEANPORT, N.J. – Since winning the Grade 2 Bowling Green in July 2017 at Saratoga, Hunter O’Riley had failed to hit the board in six starts sandwiched around a ninth-month layoff. The long-winded son of Tiz Wonderful had been dropping too far back during his races and was unable to make up the ground when it counted.

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That changed on Saturday at Monmouth Park when jockey Paco Lopez kept the 6-year-old in contact with the field during the Grade 1 United Nations while saving ground. He wheeled Hunter O’Riley out five wide on the far turn and then ran down Zulu Alpha to take the 1 3/8-mile turf stakes by a neck.

The win was the first in a Grade 1 for trainer Jimmy Toner since Time and Motion won the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland in the fall of 2016.

“That was a super ride by Paco,” Toner said of the United Nations. “He saved ground with the field and then tipped him out – maybe a little too far, I thought. But this horse runs better on the outside and at least he wasn’t 15 lengths out of it early.

“The horse has been doing great. He’s been training lights out for this.”

Lopez, a five-time riding champion at Monmouth, has been riding very well since he returned to the saddle June 15 after serving a 30-day suspension for careless riding at Gulfstream Park. The United Nations was Lopez’s third win on the card. He also won the Grade 3 Eatontown and an allowance race. Since his return, Lopez is 8 for 28.

Lopez was happy after the United Nations but downplayed the significance of the most important win of his comeback.

“Whether it’s a Grade 1, a Grade 2, or a $5,000 claimer, I try to win every race all the time,” Lopez said. “I am happy that today I was able to do what Mr. Toner wanted. He told me, ‘Whatever you do, get this horse to the outside.’ ”

Hunter O’Riley is now 5 for 22 and the $180,000 he earned Saturday boosts his earnings to $620,000 for owners Sean Shay and Michael Ryan. The United Nations is his second stakes win.

He had been scheduled to race in the Grade 1 Manhattan on Belmont Stakes Day but was scratched by order of the stewards.

“That was an unfortunate incident,” Toner said. “One of my employees gave the horse some wind [spray] during the course of the day, and security was there, and the rules are you can’t give the horse anything on the day of the race. And, that’s what happened.

“It was very disappointing. Maybe it was a bad thing, good thing since he was able to come back in this race.”

Arrocha was sent from the gate in the United Nations by Antonio Gallardo and made the lead. He was surprisingly tracked by Monarchs Glen, who had lagged far back in his first two starts U.S. starts after having previously raced in Great Britain.

Following fractions of 25.29 seconds, 50.36, 1:16.19, and 1:41.46 over the good course, the field bunched up on the far turn, with Zulu Alpha challenging three wide outside the early leaders and 9-5 favorite Channel Cat bidding for the lead four wide.

Zulu Alpha came away with a short lead over Channel Cat but could not contain Hunter O’Riley, who paid $30.20 while completing the course in 2:17.10 following a 1 1/4-mile split of 2:05.51.

It was a half-length back from Zulu Alpha to Channel Cat in third and 1 1/4 lengths farther back to Bigger Picture, who won the United Nation two years ago. Focus Group, who trailed the field early, finished fifth at 3-1.