The Shug McGaughey-trained Abaco invaded from New York to collect her first graded stakes win with a come-from-behind, one-length victory over Miz Ida in the 40th running of the $112,800 Cardinal Handicap (Grade III) on Saturday afternoon at Churchill Downs.
Abaco, a 5-year-old homebred for owner/breeder Odgen Mills “Dinny” Phipps, appreciated the added 1 1/8-mile distance and was clocked over a firm Matt Winn Turf Course in 1:50.85.
Abaco was a bridesmaid three times this year against stakes competition but broke through Saturday with a clear run down the stretch. Reunited with jockey Rosie Napravnik, she was allowed to settle near the back of the pack in the field of 10 fillies and mares as free-running Soft Whisper led the way through fractions of :23.83, :48.32 and 1:38.29.
Solid Appeal, the co-starting high weight at 119 pounds, chased the pacesetter and grabbed the lead from the tiring rival at the top the stretch. Miz Ida slipped through along the rail to gain a short lead with a furlong to go, but Abaco was closing fast. The eventual winner advanced three-wide on the final turn and angled out in the stretch to display her late closing kick.
“My instructions were to keep her out of trouble and that’s all I had to do,” said 25-year-old Napravnik, the nation’s eighth-leading rider in money won ($11.8 million) who missed the previous three days of racing due to body soreness from a pair of mishaps. “She’s got a huge kick and that’s her strength.”
Abaco, who carried 116 pounds, paid $7.60, $4 and $3.60 as the 5-2 second betting choice. Miz Ida, with Shaun Bridgmohan and 118 pounds in the saddle, returned $6.40 and $4.80. Solid Appeal, ridden by Joe Rocco Jr., finished a head back of Miz Ida and paid $4.60.
Starstruck-IRE, the 2-1 favorite, finished fourth and was followed by Somali Lemonade, Street of Gold, My Perfect Ten, Soft Whisper, Rare Event and Embarr completed the order of finish.
The $66,439 first prize was well-earned as the second- through fifth- place finishers were graded stakes winners. It was Abaco’s fifth win and first stakes triumph in 18 starts. Her career earnings now stand at $395,108.
“I was tickled to death with her,” McGaughey said. “She never had won a stake. She had been second in three. She’s so deserving of winning one and I was really glad. … I thought that, horse-for-horse, it was a pretty good bunch.”
For McGaughey, who saddled recently-retired Orb to victory in this year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI), it was the Hall of Fame trainer’s third victory in the Cardinal Handicap, which honors Kentucky’s state bird. He won the race in 1983 on dirt with Charge My Account and in 2007 with Criminologist, who was co-owned by Phipps.
“We’re getting to like this track a lot,” said Daisy Phipps Pulito, the racing manager for her father’s Phipps Stable. “Last time we were here we won the Derby with Orb, and now we win with this mare.
Abaco, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Giant’s Causeway out of the Pleasant Colony mare Cat Cay, entered the race off a good second behind Pianist in the $200,000 Athenia (GIII) at Belmont Park on Oct. 12.
Prior to the Athenia, Abaco was beaten a head by Strathnaver-GB in Pimlico’s $100,000 Lady Baltimore in September when she lacked clear running room in mid-stretch under Napravnik and closed with a rush to just miss.
Abaco will join McGaughey’s string of horses in south Florida for the winter and will likely target the $150,000 Suwannee River (GIII), a 1 1/8-mile grass race for fillies and mares at Gulfstream Park.
“(Mr. Phipps) said if I thought she could be one of the tops in her division, (he’d) sure like to keep her in training,” McGaughey said. “So, we’ll let her tell us. But she’s awfully good right now, and she has been since we brought her back.”
Saturday’s 10-race program also featured a first-level allowance race for 2-year-olds that might produce a starter in the $175,000-added Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) on Nov. 30. Chuck and Maribeth Sandford’s Almost Famous, ridden by Corey Lanerie and trained by Pat Byrne, rebounded from a fourth-place finish in the $61,800 Street Sense less than two weeks ago to win the 1 1/16-mile race by six lengths over Dobra Historia in 1:44.98.
Racing at Churchill Downs continues Sunday with a 10-race program that begins at 12:40 p.m. ET. It will mark Day 11 of the 25-day Fall Meet.
CARDINAL HANDICAP QUOTES
SHUG McGAUGHEY, trainer of ABACO (winner) – via telephone from New York: “I was tickled to death with her. She never had won a stake. She had been second in three. She’s so deserving of winning one and I was really glad. She should have won down in Baltimore (in Laurel’s Lady Baltimore on Sept. 21), but today we wanted to make sure she didn’t get in trouble. (Jockey) Rosie (Napravnik) rode a big race on her and we’re all really, really pleased.”
Q: It looked like she might have been banged around a little at the start and Rosie dropped over to the hedge immediately. Was the plan to be that far back? “I thought she (Napravnik) rode her good. She didn’t get away good, but she got her over and saved the ground. She got in good position and I think she probably thought she was on the best horse. She got her in the right spot and she was able to finish good. We’re all very pleased.”
Q: Does Abaco have more racing in front of her or is she a broodmare prospect? “I talked to Mr. Phipps about it and said there was a race at Gulfstream that would fit her on Feb. 8 and I’ll try to run her before that. And I said ‘Let’s make up our minds then.’ He said, ‘If I thought she could be one of the tops in her division, I’d sure like to keep her in training.’ So, we’ll let her tell us. But she’s awfully good right now, and she has been since we brought her back. After her race at Keeneland (the Jenny Wiley), I turned her out for a while. She’s run well over the Gulfstream turf course and I wouldn’t think there’s any reason why we wouldn’t want to keep her training.”
Q: She beat a pretty good, accomplished field today in the Cardinal … “I thought so, too and I was a little bit surprised. I thought that, horse-for-horse, it was a pretty good bunch.”
ROSIE NAPRAVNIK, jockey on ABACO (winner): “She didn’t come out real fast, but it really isn’t a big factor with her because she comes from so far off the pace anyway. My instructions were to keep her out of trouble and that’s all I had to do.”
Q: She really closed fast … “She did. She’s got a huge kick and that’s her strength.”
DAISY PHIPPS PULITO, Racing Manager of Phipps Stable, owner of ABACO: “We’re getting to like this track a lot. Last time we were here we won the Derby with Orb, and now we win with this mare.”
STEVE MARGOLIS, trainer of MIZ IDA (runner-up): “These past few months our horses have run good in all of these stakes, but we’ve often been second-best – just beaten by a horse that had a little more. But she ran good. (Jockey) Shaun (Brdigmohan) saved the ground and he didn’t give her too much to do. He said a mile-and-an-eighth is kind of pushing it with her, but he had her in a good tracking spot. She came through on the rail and she did what she had to do, but the 8-horse (Abaco) kind of got rolling and just had a little more. But it was a big effort.”
Q: Is this it for her and will she be back next year? “The plan is to keep her here for about a week and have her checked out, and then we’ll send her over to Amy LoPresti’s place (in Lexington). We’ll probably give her the rest of November and all of December off, then bring her back for the Fair Grounds and get her ready. It’s possible that we could run her at the end of the (Fair Grounds) meet, but probably be looking more for something at Keeneland or Churchill. She had a good year and between this second and the second at Parx, she runs hard and she tries.”
SHAUN BRIDGMOHAN, jockey on MIZ IDA (runner-up): “She tries. She’s a little bitty filly who gives her all all of the time. She has a heart of colt. We cut the corner and saved all the ground that we could and she tried all the way.”
Q: When she turned for home you had to think you were in great shape … “When I cut the corner she gave me her usual spurt and opened up. She was fine the whole way.”
JOE ROCCO JR., jockey on SOLID APPEAL (third): “She ran really good. She was coming off a little layoff. I’d been working her, so I got to know her. It was kind of a weird race. The lone speed shot out there and it was kind of like we were in a second race. I wanted to wait as long as I could, but besides that horse (pacesetter Soft Whisper) there wasn’t much speed in there and that’s where I was. So when they came to me I had to ask on the turn and responded. She dug in very game to the wire.”
LARRY JONES, trainer of STARSTRUCK (third): “They (Calumet Farm) told me earlier she really liked a firm turf and that’s why they thought about sending her over here (to the U.S.). I don’t know, with the time of the race it’s apparently not real firm out there, but we’ll see. It looked like she put herself into the race. We lost some ground around the turn, but we had to do what we had to do.”