By Ed Gray For Gulfstreampark.com, Photo by Jon Kral
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – It’s only natural for someone who claims a horse to expect to be able to improve upon its performance for its previous connections. It was also only natural for people to dismiss as utterly unreasonable Mansour Albaroudy’s wild expectations for his $20,000 claim in 2009.
“The day I claimed him, I told them I’m going to win the Breeders’ Cup with him. They laughed at me,” said Albaroudy, recalling the day he claimed Eldaafer from Shadwell Stable and trainer Kiaran McLaughlin at Aqueduct. “I knew it from the day I claimed the horse.”
Albaroudy proved prophetic nearly two years later when Eldaafer captured the $500,000 Breeders’ Cup Marathon (G3) at Churchill Downs last November.
A victory in the Breeders’ Cup would generally be regarded as a career achievement, especially for a horse claimed for $20,000, but not for Albaroudy.
“I don’t think I’ve seen the best of this horse yet,” he said.
Bigger and better things are expected of Eldaafer, who will make his start in a Grade 1 stakes in Saturday’s $500,000 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park. But don’t think that Albaroudy is taking any of his 6-year-old gelding’s accomplishments thus far for granted.
“I was blessed with this horse,” he said.
He is also thankful for the hands-on attention Eldaafer has received from Diane Alvarado, who exercises as well as trains a 10-horse stable at Gulfstream.
“She works hard. She gets on her horses. She cares about them individually. How can I ask for more? Any trainer can go and say to the exercise rider, ‘You’re going to breeze in one minute or :58. She gets on the horse and feels what she has under her,” Albaroudy said. “She communicates with her animals. That’s what makes her special.”
Eldaafer is the first horse Albaroudy bought in this country after emigrating from his native Lebanon in 2003 to open Phoenician Palace, a Middle Eastern restaurant in Warrick, N.Y. The son of A.P. Indy and the Tabasco Cat-sired Habbti had won once in four starts before scoring by more than seven lengths in the fateful $20,000 claiming race at Aqueduct on Jan. 23.
“I knew the horse. I saw him when he broke his maiden. I know the blood and when I saw him for ‘20,’ I claimed him,” said Albaroudy, who now owns seven horses. “I claim off (Todd) Pletcher, McLaughlin. When I claim horses, I’m not scared. I believe I have the best trainer. Why should I be scared?”
Despite the low claiming price, Albaroudy bought himself a sound horse, but a horse who requires extra attention from his trainer, whose stable goat, Google, has become such fast friends with Eldaafer that he travels with him
“Soundness-wise, he’s got no issues. He’s a big solid horse. He’s not tall, but it’s like sitting on a bull. He’s all shoulder. He’s just a solid horse,” said Alvarado, who took over the training of Eldaafer 15 days before he captured the 2009 Brooklyn Handicap (G2) at Belmont Park. “The most important thing is keeping him happy. He gets bored.”
Eldaafer isn’t given much time to get bored by his 33-year-old trainer, who is always looking to change up his routine to keep him interested. The Kentucky-bred gelding has proven to be extremely adaptable to change, including the ability to handle all surfaces. Eldaafer will bring a three-race winning streak into the Donn, each triumph accomplished on a different surface. Prior to his Marathon win on Churchill’s conventional dirt track, he won a turf allowance at Laurel and the Turfway Park Fall Championship (G3) on a synthetic track.
“Diane has turned him around,” Albaroudy said.
Eldaafer will have plenty of competition to keep his attention in the Donn, which will also be contested by the Nick Zito-trained duo of Fly Down and Morning Line, the Todd Pletcher-trained Rule, the Doug O’Neill-trained Square Eddie.
Not that Albaroudy is intimidated.
“I’m never afraid of any competition. I believe my horse is one of the best. Why should I be scared? If he was ready, I was going to run him against Zenyatta,” he said. “I believe if my horse is ready to run, I’m not afraid of anybody.”