Riva Ridge, 1973

Charles Hatton on two-time champion Riva Ridge from the 1974 American Racing Manual.

———————————————————–Meadow Stable’s popular Riva Ridge, the ’71 juvenile champion and ’72 Derby and Belmont hero, furthered his eminence at four when he was awrded the bay leaves among the ’73 handicappers.

Modern raicng makes severe, not to say barbarous, demands. The consequent attrition in the ranks finds few two-year-old leaders reasserting their preeminence in the handicap division.

Riva Ridge won five of nine enegagements last season, which is nice going for a handicapper, especially one who has problems and is unhappy in wet weather. He earned $212,602 and joined the sport’s millionaires with a total of $1,111,497. His stud potential was syndicated at $5,120,000.

We do not quote these facts for support, as a drunk uses a lamppost, but for illumination. At the height of his fascination and power, Riva Ridge was a brilliant entertainer, though he sometimes appeared frightfully irresponsible.

Remarkable Victory in Brooklyn

Who ever saw it will never forget his Brooklyn. He turned imminent defeat into victory when he condescended to get on the bit the final frenetic strides, setting a world mile and three-sixteenths mark of 1:52 2/5. He carried 127 pounds and repulsed True Knight a thrusting head in a desperate finish, conceding his rival ten pounds.

His campaign was punctuated also by a front-running success in the Massachusetts Handicap, in which he tied Whirlaway’s 31-year-old track mark. And he established an American record of 1:47 for nine furlongs in the Stuyvesant under 130, his maximum impost during the season.

Again, he ran his race in the Marlboro Invitational. Something of a stable pet, his camp followers invested in a tender sentiment in the hope “Old Pea Head,” as he was known, could bag this $250,000 prize.

Performing generously, he wheeled past the quarter pole in front, in a hand-picked field including three other champions. But he finished a receding second to his stablemate Secretariat, the champion of champions.

The phosphorescence of star quality is visible always in a rare few horses, and as suggested above none can hope to consistently escape tarnish in the handicaps. One of Riva Ridge’s reversals came in the Metropolitan, when he finished a dismal seventh. He convinced trainer Lucien Laurin he distrusted wet surfaces when he cautiously shortened stride and never joined the issue.

Similarly, he confirmed that he was less formidable on turf than on sandy loam in a Saratoga overnighter. The grass was a trifle wet. He considered it treacherous and hesitated to extend himself, perhaps remembering his rather intimidating trip in the previous fall’s International.

Again, Prove Out relentlessly stared him down in a pace duel for the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup, whereupon Laurin concluded he was not a cup horse, as he had run ignominiously also in the ’72 renewal.

But if Rive Ridge’s effectiveness was conditional, and he was somewhat less than a Trojan horse for versatility, he was not so distressingly whimsical as superficial observers thought him.

One should not judge him too harshly, for he was plagued with a shoulder condition and kidney disorder. If they did not explain his satirical lapses they did not improve him certainly. Laurin overcame these impediments for the colt’s fall campaign and probably Riva Ridge was at the apex of his form when he slammed Forage and True Knight so dramatically in record time for the Stuyvesant.

This was on October 15. Mrs. Tweedy noted Riva Ridge was not given the conventional long work for the Gold Cup October 27. It was hoped the colt’s class would see him through.

Pointed Especially for the Cup

Conversely, Allen Jerkens had pointed Prove Out especially  for the Cup ever since the Woodward and the $60,000 bargain horse was ready to run to the Rockies.

Most of the audience concurred in Laurin’s opinion and could not imagine Riva Ridge would be so indelicate as to get himself beaten in his final appearance. He was 1-2 to beat Prove Out. They went head and head to about the half-mile pole. Thereafter, the race assumed an eerie quality for the favorite players, unfolding like a horror movie, with Prove Out drawing inexorably off to win while Riva Ridge was 33 lengths back in last place.

Secretariat took his revenge on Onion in the Marlboro, but Riva Ridge could not avenge the Woodward.

Holds Secretariat Responsible

Mrs. Tweedy held “Riva” responsible for Secretariat’s defeat at Prove Out’s heels in the mile and a half, weight-for-age Woodward.

Following the Marlboro, it was intended Secretariat should train for the Man o’ War while his stablemate pointed for the Woodward. Accordingly, the three-year-old was galloped and breezed tentatively on the turf. He had done little for days when the rains came, dictating a change in policy.

Secretariat was substituted for Riva Ridge in the Woodward and there was no time to sharpen him for the race. Mrs. Tweedy concurred when a wag quipped, “That is one time Riva Ridge beat Secretariat.”

Riva Ridge’s handicap phase was interestingly varied, as you see. Winning or losing he did things in a big way. He was “Hawkins Hawss” when he could hear his feet rattle, at any distance up to a mile and a half.

Physically also, it was almost as if he were two horses. When he was out of condition, Riva Ridge, a 16 hands bay with black points, looked rather like a light necked, rawboned gelding. He was never massive and masculine.

But when freshened, he was racinglike and elegant, appearing to have stepped out of an ancient print of an Epsom Derby hero. He cut a captivating figure on parade for the Stuyvesant, his coat glistening and moving gracefully as a ballet dancer.

His extended action was wonderfully light and collected. A splendid gate horse at four, he had catlike agility and could be in the first flight leaving the post in any race. Blinkers were always part of his equipment, but he handled beautifully and would relax, then produce speed on demand.

Unlike some of his sex, he did not become cunning at four. It was only when he hadn’t any traction that he gave some the impression he was irresolute.

Riva Ridge is mechanically faultless in his conformation. His head is plain but he has a good eye, and he carries himself well. The angulation of his shoulder and the flow of his top line defy criticism.

He legs set on beautifully, the cannons short and low in relation to the length of forearm and from the hip to hock. His pasterns are correct, his hoofs black and well formed and he is plumb through the hocks. There is the slightest tendency to be over at the knees.

Shock Absorbers to Pasterns

Veteran racing men will not take umbrage at this. They tend to serve as auxiliary shock absorbers to the pasterns. Horses so constructed are preferable to those too straight in front, and certainly those “back on the knee.”

His barrel is not conspicuously large and robust, nor is he especially broad beamed, but there is a homogeneity in his structure and “he is made like a watch,” as turfmen say.

Speed and precocity is the forte of his branch of the Nearco male line. Royal Charger was a miler, while Turn-to and [Riva Ridge’s sire] First Landing scintillated at two. Riva Ridge compiled an infinitely more satisfactory record than any of these, as a proven classicist. He also marks an improvement over his maternal grandsire Heliopolis, who had no feet.

Example of Improving the Breed

Since the idea is to “improve the breed,” we think that we may say Meadow Stud succeeded eminently in the instance of Riva Ridge.

It is a question how much of his quality is attributable to his dam Iberia, one of the “old blue hens” of modern production. Though she could win only three little races in two years, she has produced a redundancy of stakes animals.

Riva Ridge’s brother Potomac won the Christiana at two, placing in two other stakes before going wrong. His half brother Hydrologist, by Tatan, won ten races and $277,958, including the Excelsior, Stymie and Discovery, while he placed in the Woodward, Governor Nicolls, Roamer, Gallant Fox, Whitney and Display. He now is in stud in Venezuela.

Capito, by Sir Gaylord out of Iberia, won his only start at two and is pointing for the 1974 three-year-old classics.

Iberia comes of the family founded by Brownell Combs’ sensationally fast little Sweetheart, through Man o’ War’s witchy daughter Warrior Lass, a useful performer though the bane of stud grooms and vets who had to examine her for pregnancy. She would “kick the shortening out of a cake,” but it takes spirit to be a racehorse.

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5 Responses to Riva Ridge, 1973

  1. Double Jay says:

    How was Riva as a sire and broodmare sire? I looked at his progeny and none were familiar to me but I was not following racing at that time.

    • ddink55 says:

      Alas, Riva Ridge would have to be classified as a sire as “disappointing,” at least considering his high class as a racehorse. His male line struggled from the beginning and has pretty much disappeared by now. He was better as a broodmare sire. By far his best daughter was Blitey, a 1976 filly and a multiple G2 winner. Blitey was by Riva Ridge out of 1966 champion three-year-old filly Lady Pitt, by Sword Dancer out of Rock Drill, by Whirlaway. Blitey produced several stakes winners, the best of which was BC Sprint (G1) winner Dancing Spree. Blitey was also the second dam of 1994 champion three-year-old filly Heavenly Prize, who has done quite well for herself as a broodmare. It is now quite a prolific female family. Check it out.

      • fmitchell07 says:

        Blitey’s pedigree is also a fascinating exercise because where else could we find Riva Ridge, Sword Dancer, and Whirlaway “bing, bing, bong!”? [Talk about high-class racehorses with minimal success at stud!]

        I would hypothesize that one reason for this is the odd mechanical nature of Riva Ridge (and probably the other two, as well). RR was a very, very light horse in an era when the weights of better horses have trended upward. If you look at pictures of RR, and they don’t grow on trees, you can see how deer-like and refined he was. He carried no excess anywhere, as Hatton remarked on in his piece.

        And I believe it was that lightness of body which made him such an efficient racehorse, as well as so unsuited to dig in and plow through the mud. It wasn’t a weakness of character, I believe, but the fact that he couldn’t. He didn’t have the bulk and necessary power to churn through the heavier track, and any holding tendency of the track kept him from using his natural action to glide over the track with minimum effort.

        I prefer this explanation of RR’s lack of success on wet tracks because it is consistent with his general character as a game and high-class racehorse, rather than saying that he got a burr under his saddle whenever the track was wet.


      • ddink55 says:

        Thanks for the comments. I will take your word about the biomechanical aspects and comment only on the pedigree aspects.

        Yes, the pedigree of Blitey is very interesting. Might use her as an excuse to babble soon about the Rock Drill (dam of Lady Pitt) female line. Also about the female line of Dustwhirl (dam of Whirlaway). Also about the female line of Warrior Lass (third dam of Riva Ridge and my original intention).

        The other daughter of Riva Ridge who has done well in contemporary pedigrees is Expressive Dance. Might use her as an excuse to babble about the female line of Good Example (Exclusive).

        Must also confess that I never much liked Riva Ridge (for reasons you know), which is the main reason I never much liked Secretariat. Persuaded myself to post Riva Ridge anyway but to do so about his season at four (not at two). Anyway, good to see that the post on RR has met with some approval and readership. Thank you!!!!

  2. Pingback: riva ridge was an example of how light weight works for a racehorse | bloodstock in the bluegrass

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