White Abarrio going, going, gone in the Whitney (NYRA/Coglianese)
By Keith McCalmont – NYRA Press Office
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y.— C Two Racing Stable and Antonio Pagnano’s multiple graded stakes-winner White Abarrio stalked and pounced to a convincing score in Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Whitney, at Saratoga Race Course. In victory, White Abarrio earned a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic in November at Santa Anita Park.
Trained by Rick Dutrow, Jr., the 4-year-old Race Day grey secured his second Grade 1 win at nine furlongs following a powerful 1 1/4-length score in last year’s Grade 1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park while in the care of conditioner Saffie Joseph, Jr.
White Abarrio joined Dutrow, Jr.’s barn this spring and made his first start for the veteran conditioner with a troubled third in the Grade 1 Hill ‘n’ Dale Metropolitan Handicap on June 10 at Belmont Park, overcoming a stumbled start to finish 3 1/4-lengths back of the victorious returning rival Cody’s Wish, while registering a career-best 106 Beyer Speed Figure.
“Very, very happy for everybody involved. The owners trusted me to train the horse and now we get to go further with him,” Dutrow, Jr. said. “We can even think about the Breeders’ Cup Classic. After we’ve been looking at him and trying to figure him out, he runs huge between two and three months. Today was two months, last time he ran was about three months. He ran big last time, even though he didn’t get the money, we were extremely happy. Now we get to think about going even further in the mile and a quarter [Classic] or the [Dirt] Mile. We’re sitting in a good spot. We’re very happy.”
The complexion of the race changed when Cody’s Wish, the 2-5 mutuel favorite, bobbled at the break and trailed the field of six. The Bill Mott-trained Cody’s Wish, with Junior Alvarado up, had notched nine wins from his last 10 starts, including four straight Grade 1 scores topped by a last-out victory in the Grade 1 Met Mile.
Giant Game took control of the race and led through splits of 24.41 seconds and 48.27 over the fast main track with White Abarrio stalking a close second in front of longshot Last Samurai, who raced to the outside of the Jose Ortiz-piloted Zandon.
Alvarado asked Cody’s Wish to make an early move as Giant Game led the field into the far turn through three-quarters in 1:11.81. Jose Ortiz tipped Zandon off the rail late in the turn as White Abarrio, full of run, took over from a retreating Giant Game.
White Abarrio put five lengths on the field at the stretch call as Cody’s Wish improved his position with a wide move and Zandon was asked for his best run. But there was no reeling in a game White Abarrio, who powered through the wire a 6 1/4-length winner in a final time of 1:48.45. Zandon completed the exacta by 3 3/4-lengths over Cody’s Wish with Charge It, Giant Game and Last Samurai completing the order of finish.
Ortiz, Jr., the Spa’s leading rider, said he felt confident White Abarrio would fire a big shot following his Met Mile effort.
“I thought with that race and Rick giving him the break straight to this race, I knew he was ready,” said Ortiz, Jr., aboard White Abarrio for the first time since a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap in December at Aqueduct Racetrack. “I was working him before this and he was so positive on the horse. I knew he was going to break good and I could sit second or third from there. That’s what I did. The horse was ready and he took me all the way to the quarter-pole nice and easy; and when I asked him, he was there for me.”
Jeff Drown’s Zandon captured the Grade 1 Blue Grass last April at Keeneland but has yet to win since, posting a record of 8-0-5-2 while competing exclusively at graded level for his four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown.
Ortiz, who guided Zandon to a third-place effort in last year’s Grade 2 Risen Star at Fair Grounds Race Course, picked up the mount from the injured Joel Rosario.
“He [Brown] just said to ride loose. I have been around the horse a long time, I know him and rode him in Louisiana,” Ortiz said. “He [Brown] gave me the confidence and I think we had a great trip. The winner was the best today.”
Alvarado said Cody’s Wish never felt comfortable throughout the journey as the 5-year-old Curlin bay looked to win beyond a distance of one-mile for the first time.
“He jumped OK and the second jump, I don’t know, the ground broke underneath and he felt very awkward from behind. That might have taken a little out of me, but I don’t think he ran his race today,” Alvarado said. “It might have been the distance. When I hit the three-eighths pole, I was very worried. I had never got this feeling with him before and today I knew I was in trouble. I tried to keep him confident to keep him going, but right when he switched to the right [lead], he got flat on me. I had to ask him at the three-eighths and start riding and he started picking it up, but he wasn’t quite as fast as I wanted.”
Dutrow, Jr. had initially planned to train White Abarrio into the seven-furlong Grade 1, $500,000 Forego on August 26, but the compact Whitney field – and also a chance to sidestep the Mott-trained reigning Champion Male Sprinter Elite Power, who bested Gunite here last week in the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap – led him to choose a return to two-turns for his versatile charge.
“If they [Elite Power and Gunite] would have both run up the track then maybe we would have [gone to the Forego],” said Dutrow, Jr., who returned victorious from a 10-year suspension in May. “But those two horses ran their races. Even if we went to the Forego, we would not have been afraid to do that. We would have went in with confidence because we have a nice horse.”
Dutrow, Jr. has made five previous starts in the Whitney, the last outing in 2012 with Trickmeister, who ran fifth, and the most memorable with Saint Liam, who ran second, by a neck to Commentator, as the mutuel favorite in 2005. Saint Liam went on to post Grade 1 wins at Belmont Park in the Woodward and Breeders’ Cup Classic and secure Horse of the Year honors.
Bred in Kentucky by Spendthrift Farm, White Abarrio, whose record stands at 14-6-1-3, banked $550,000 in victory and improved his earnings to $1,826,350. He returned $22.40 for a $2 win bet.
Live racing resumes Sunday at Saratoga with a 10-race card featuring the Grade 3, $200,000 Adirondack in Race 8. First post is 1:10 p.m. Eastern.