Saturday’s stakes-packed card at Gulfstream Park featured a pair of major qualifiers for the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Oaks (G1), the $1 million Florida Derby (G1) and $250,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2). Both races awarded points on a 100-40-20-10 scale to the top four finishers.
Florida Derby (G1)
White Abarrio launched a wide bid to seize command entering the stretch of the Florida Derby and held Charge It safe late, scoring by 1 1/4 lengths. The Saffie Joseph Jr.-trained gray colt was ridden by Tyler Gaffalione, and White Abarrio completed 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.64.
Third in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) last fall, White Abarrio will return to the Churchill Downs with a strong resume, opening his sophomore season with a 4 1/2-length victory in the Feb. 5 Holy Bull (G3) at Gulfstream. The Kentucky-bred son of Race Day defeated a well-regarded field in the Florida Derby.
“It means the world to me,” an emotional Joseph said. “The Florida Derby is up there with the Kentucky Derby because we’re based at Gulfstream. I’m just thankful and blessed that we have this opportunity. It’s amazing.”
White Abarrio is campaigned by C2 Racing Stable and La Milagrosa Stable, and he was off as the 29-10 second choice in the Florida Derby.
“That was a childhood dream come true,” said Gaffalione, a Florida native who won five races Saturday, including four stakes. “It feels amazing. I’m just so thankful to Saffie and the team and the connections, the owners, for giving me this opportunity.”
Charge It, who was making his first stakes and two-turn start for Todd Pletcher after a romping maiden win in mid-February, ran well for second while displaying signs of immaturity, racing in spots from just off the pace and drifting in and out in the stretch while closing ground late.
“Super pleased with the effort,” Pletcher said. “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.”
The 3-1 second choice, Charge It wound up a length better than 2-1 favorite Simplification, who contested the early lead before weakening slightly in the stretch. It was another 3 1/2 lengths to Pappacap in fourth, and O Captain, Steal Sunshine, Strike Hard, Cajun’s Magic, King of Truth, Clapton, and early pacesetter Classic Causeway followed under the wire.
A maiden and entry-level allowance winner in his first two outings at Gulfstream last fall, White Abarrio has now won 4-of-5 starts and bankrolled $822,800.
He was purchased for $40,000 at last year’s OBS March two-year-old sale. Bred by Spendthrift Farm, White Abarrio is the lone starter from the Into Mischief mare Catching Diamonds.
White Abarrio missed a scheduled workout last Saturday after spiking a fever, but he quickly recovered and breezed three furlongs on Monday.
“That’s what good horses do, quality horses,” Joseph said. “They’re able to overcome trainer errors and when things go wrong.”
Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2)
Kathleen O. easily passed her first two-turn test in the 1 1/16-mile Gulfstream Park Oaks, confirming herself as a major contender for the Kentucky Oaks with a 2 3/4-length victory.
Now 4-for-4 for Patrick Kearney’s Winngate Stables, the Shug McGaughey-trained daughter of Upstart was favored at 1-2 over six rivals with Javier Castellano. She launched her bid on the far turn and overhauled Goddess of Fire soon after straightening for home, stopping the teletimer in 1:43.75.
“I had a beautiful trip,” Castellano said. “I had no question at all that she would handle two turns. She has strong power at the finish. I like the way she did it today, nice and easy with a strong finish. She has a lot of potential. I think she’s going to be fun in the future.”
Kathleen O. broke her maiden first-time out at Aqueduct in mid-November, closing from at least 10 lengths back to win by a head at seven furlongs on a muddy track. The classy late runner followed with an 8 1/2-length triumph over a one-turn mile in the Cash Run S. at Gulfstream on New Year’s Day, and she was exiting a comfortable two-length score in the mile Davona Dale (G2) on March 5.
“I think she wants to run a distance of ground,” said McGaughey, who won the 1993 Kentucky Oaks with Dispute. “She just does everything right.”
Goddess of Fire, the 8-5 second choice after a close second in the Feb. 19 Rachel Alexandra (G2) at Fair Grounds, rallied to the lead on the far turn and dug in gamely when challenged before settling for second-best, 17 1/4 lengths clear of Running Legacy in third. Amani’s Image, Blustery, and Cancel This completed the order.
Bred by Gainesway Thoroughbreds and Bridlewood Farms, Kathleen O. passed through the auction ring three times, bringing $8,000 as a weanling and $50,000 as a yearling before being purchased for $275,000 at last year’s OBS Spring two-year-old sale.
“This is kind of a miracle,” McGaughey said. “The (owner) gets one horse, and it’s this one. If he doesn’t have any more fun, which he will, he’s had a lot of it.”
Out of the stakes-placed Blame mare Quaver, Kathleen O. is from the immediate female family of Grade 1-winning millionaire and sire Cupid.
“We’ll see how she comes out of it,” McGaughey said. “Obviously the Kentucky Oaks is a big spot for me. I really like the Oaks. I’ve won it one time. I remember the thrill and I’d like to have it again. The long stretch at Churchill Downs, maybe it will be for her.”