Florida Derby Win Still ‘Dream Come True’ for Joseph

March 16, 2023

White Abarrio and Tyler Gaffalione capture last year’s Florida Derby (Coglianese)

Gulfstream News & Notes

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla.— It’s been just about a year since White Abarrio scored a 1 ¼-length victory over Charge It in the $1 million Curlin Florida Derby (G1) and trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. is still on a bit of a high.

“It was a dream come true and it still is,” Joseph said. “You have to pinch yourself to make sure it was real.”

White Abarrio had run some solid races in the aftermath of his Florida Derby score but was winless in six subsequent graded-stakes starts, including a disappointing eighth-place finish in the Jan. 28 Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) at Gulfstream. The striking gray son of Race Day recaptured his winning form in a March 4 seven-furlong optional claiming allowance in eye-catching fashion.

“Relief is the word. Coming off the Pegasus, we wanted to get him back on track,” Joseph said. “It was a relief and then you look at all the positives. He ran fast. He ran career bests by every figures. The Thoroughbred Daily News wrote that he was the fastest horse that weekend, and there were 16 graded stakes that weekend. He wasn’t in a graded stake, but his allowance was faster than any race in the country.”

Joseph plans to keep White Abarrio around one turn for the near future, at least, starting with the Carter (G1) April 8 at Aqueduct.

Joseph isn’t likely to recapture the thrill of winning the Florida Derby this year.

“There may be a chance [in] West Coast Cowboy, but nothing is being pointed there,” he said.

Joseph has no set plans for Prairie Hawk, who finished an even fourth in last weekend’s Tampa Bay Derby (G2) after enduring a four-wide trip throughout but listed the April 25 Lexington (G3) at Keeneland as a possibility.

Joseph is weighing his options for Skippylongstocking, who captured the Challenger (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs last Saturday. The third-place finisher in last year’s Belmont Stakes (G1) achieved graded-stakes success in the Harlan’s Holiday (G3) and the West Virginia Derby (G3).

“There are a bunch of options. We’ll know next week. He may stay here at Gulfstream for the Ghostzapper (April 1), or he could go to the Ben Ali at Keeneland, and he could also [go to] the Oaklawn Handicap,” Joseph said.

“He’s a hard-knocking horse. We have him a break toward the end of last year and he put a lot of weight on. He won the Harlan’s Holiday and ran decent in the Pegasus, which has turned out to be a strong race form-wise, Joseph added. “He came back the other day to win the Challenger. He’s a tough horse who always shows up and runs hard.”

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