White Abarrio Guts It Out in G1 Curlin Florida Derby
Saffie Joseph Jr. Trainee Wins in the Face of Adversity
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – C2 Racing Stable LLC and La Milagrosa Stable LLC’s White Abarrio punched his ticket for Louisville, Ky. Saturday at Gulfstream Park, where the gray son of Race Day took the lead in the stretch and held off Charge It to capture the $1 million Curlin Florida Derby (G1) presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale at Xalapa.
“It means the world to me. The Florida Derby is up there with the Kentucky Derby because we’re based at Gulfstream,” emotional trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. said. “I’m just thankful and blessed that we have this opportunity. It’s amazing.”
The 71st running of the Curlin Florida Derby headlined a 14-race program with 10 stakes, six graded, worth $2.2 million in purses.
A sharp winner of the Feb. 5 Holy Bull, White Abarrio was withheld from the March 5 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth (G2), making it imperative that he finish at least second to accumulate enough points to make the May 7 Kentucky Derby (G1) field at Churchill Downs. There were170 qualifying points for the May 7 Kentucky Derby with 100 going to the winner, 40 to the runner-up, 20 to the third-place finisher and 10 to the fourth-place finisher.
White Abarrio refused to settle for second, as the 5-2 second betting choice,fought off a strong challenge by Todd Pletcher-trained Charge It by 1 ¼ lengths. Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher said he was pleased with Charge It’s effort in only his third career start.
“Super pleased with the effort. To get a real education in a race like that was very encouraging. He got a little green down the lane. He kind of drifted in behind that horse and felt like if he could have just run straight that last 100 yards, he was going to be right there. But I thought it was a huge effort, considering everything,” said Pletcher, who said the Kentucky Derby will be under consideration after seeing how the son of Tapit comes out of the Florida Derby.
Simplification, the 2-1 favorite who finished second in the Holy Bull and won the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth, took the lead leaving the backstretch but was unable to withstand the bids by White Abarrio and Charge It, finishing third, a length behind Charge It and 3 ½ lengths ahead of Pappacap.
“I’m so happy today. We made the decision to run near the front today, because [Classic Causeway] was speed and [Pappacap] all the time is behind me. [Jockey] Jose [Ortiz] and I talked this morning and we said the last three-eighths you move the horse. I’m just so happy with him. He’s very good,” Simplification’s trainer Antonio Sano said. “It’s very important he ran well and comes back well.”
White Abarrio rated in fifth under Tyler Gaffalione behind pacesetter Classic Causeway around the first turn and into the backstretch. Classic Causeway suddenly dropped back out of contention midway through the backstretch, where Simplistic took a brief lead with Pappacap applying heavy pressure. Simplistic took the lead into the stretch under Ortiz, only to be passed by White Abarrio, who made a three-wide sweep on the turn into the stretch. Charge It saved ground into the stretch before making a determined run, only to fall short under Luis Saez.
White Abarrio’s victory was Gaffalione’s fifth win on the card, including four stakes.
“That was a childhood dream come true,” Davie FL native said. “It feels amazing. I’m just so thankful to Saffie and the team and the connections, the owners, for giving me this opportunity.”
White Abarrio ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.64 to win his fourth race in four starts at Gulfstream, his only loss coming in a third-place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs last November. Joseph is hoping the Kentucky-bred colt can redeem himself on the first Saturday in May.
“Once he comes out good and all being well, we’re going to go to Churchill and keep dreaming,” Joseph said.
Starters in Gulfstream Park’s tradition-rich Florida Derby have gone on to win 58 Triple Crown races, including 24 runnings of the Kentucky Derby.
White Abarrio went into the Florida Derby under less-than-ideal conditions, having spiked a fever early last week that caused him to miss a scheduled workout last Sunday. Fully recovered, he breezed three furlongs at Gulfstream to convince his trainer that he was up for the challenge of the Florida Derby.
“That’s what good horses do, quality horses. They’re able to overcome trainer errors and when things go wrong. This time was different. We didn’t give up fitness. Last time we gave up fitness,” said Joseph whose Florida Derby winner had missed a pair of workouts prior to his Holy Bull victory.
White Abarrio debuted with an eye-catching 6 ¾-length victory at Gulfstream