River's Prayer going for five in row
DEL MAR, Calif. -- For a man briefly rendered unconscious, jockey Clinton Potts has distinct recollections of River's Prayer's last start at Del Mar.
In the 2006 Torrey Pines Stakes, River's Prayer stumbled at the start, unseated Potts, and then ran loose before crashing through the rail.
"She busted me on the chin" at the start, Potts said. "I was knocked out for a second."
Potts and River's Prayer remain friends. He has subsequently ridden her to five stakes wins, including the Grade 1 Princess Rooney Handicap at Calder last month. Friday at Del Mar, River's Prayer will be favored to win the $200,000 Rancho Bernardo Handicap over 6 1/2 furlongs for fillies and mares.
The race will be River's Prayer's first start on a synthetic track, and could move her closer to a start in the newly created Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at Monmouth Park on Oct. 26.
River's Prayer, owned by a partnership that includes trainer Paula Capestro, will attempt to win her fifth consecutive start.
"She continues to steadily improve, and she's learning a little bit," Potts said.
River's Prayer is likely to show speed, but Potts said she is not reliant on having the lead. She won the Great Lady M Stakes over six furlongs on turf at Hollywood Park on June 14 after racing in second for the first half of the race.
"She coming around where she'll rate a little bit," Potts said. "Before she ran as fast as she could as far as she could."
River's Prayer will be joined on the front by Lady Gamer, who was won her last three starts, including the Valkyr Stakes for statebreds at Hollywood Park in June, and Strong Faith, who was second at 51-1 in the A Gleam Handicap over seven furlongs at Hollywood Park on July 6.
Lady Gamer will be making her graded stakes debut.
"This is by far the toughest field she's run against," trainer John Sadler said.
Strong Faith drew the outside post in the field of seven. Trainer Jeff Mullins also starts Candy Jo, who drew the rail.
Mullins said he liked Strong Faith's post, but not Candy Jo's.
Pussycat Doll, the winner of three Grade 1 sprint stakes, should be a factor from off the pace. She is coming off a sixth-place finish in the A Gleam, which trainer Bob Baffert blamed on racing at night.
"There's a lot of speed" in the Rancho Bernardo, he said. "With her style, she might like that."