A winner of the Eclipse Award at age 2 and 4, Riva Ridge was ridden principally by Hall of Fame jockey Ron Turcotte, who would also ride Secretariat. Riva Ridge never ran well on muddy tracks, and as a result, after winning the Kentucky Derby, missed out winning the U.S. Triple Crown when he was upset in the Preakness Stakes after rain caused a sloppy track. In the Belmont Stakes, the 1½ mile race that is usually the race to end Triple Crown dreams, Riva Ridge defeated nine other horses, running away to a seven-length victory.
At age four, Riva Ridge won five of the nine races he entered, set track records four times, and equalled the 1 1/8 mile track record at Suffolk Downs in winning the Massachusetts Handicap. His winning time of 1:52 2/5 in the Brooklyn Handicap, raced that year at Aqueduct Racetrack, set a North American record for 1 3/16 miles on dirt. His mark was equalled by Farma Way in 1991 at Pimlico Race Course. As of January 2008, their record still stands.
With much fanfare, the Philip Morris company (manufacturer of the best-selling Marlboro cigarette brand) sponsored what was to be a match race with stablemate Secretariat. After both horses were beaten in preparatory races for the match, it was changed to an invitational race that brought together the top horses of age 3 years and up. In record time, Secretariat, ridden by Turcotte, defeated Riva Ridge, ridden by Eddie Maple.
In thirty starts, Riva Ridge won 17, placed in three, and came in third in one. His life earnings amounted to $1,111,497.