Solid Appeal and Somali Lemonade will share top billing as the 119-pound starting high weights for Saturday’s $100,000-added Cardinal Handicap (Grade III) at Churchill Downs, but Eastern invader Abaco could be the horse to beat when 10 fillies and mares go to post in the 40th running of the 1 1/8-mile turf race.
The Cardinal Handicap has been scheduled as Race 8 at 4:06 p.m. (all times Eastern) on a 10-race program that will commence at 12:40 p.m. Admission gates will open at 11:30 a.m.
The competitive Cardinal lured four graded stakes winners: Jim and Susan Hills’ Solid Appeal, a two-time Canadian Grade II winner this year; Caroline Forgason’s Somali Lemonade, winner of Jessamine (GIII) at age 2 in 2011 and this year’s $250,000 Dr. James Penny Memorial Handicap (GIII) at Parx; Calumet Farm’s Starstruck-IRE, victorious in this summer’s $158,000 Matchmaker (GIII) at Monmouth Park; and The Estate of Elaine Klein and Bertram W. Klein’s Miz Ida, a winner of the $125,000 Valley View at age 3 in 2012 and this spring’s $109,100 Early Times Mint Julep Handicap (GIII) at Churchill Downs.
But graded stakes-placed Abaco, the up-and-coming 5-year-old mare from Hall of Fame trainer “Shug” McGaughey’s New York base, could be the one who draws the most support from bettors as she seeks year-end graded stakes glory.
Abaco has finished first or second in 11 of her 17 starts for owner/breeder Odgen Mills “Dinny” Phipps, and enters the Cardinal off a good second-place finish behind Pianist in the $200,000 Athenia (GIII) at Belmont Park on Oct. 12. The daughter of Giant’s Causeway out of Cat Cay was allowed to settle towards the rear in the early stages of the 1 1/16-mile grass race and came running with good energy to secure second, two lengths back of the forwardly-placed Pianist.
“I’ve been looking for a mile-and-an-eighth race,” said McGaughey, who saddled recently-retired Orb to victory in this year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands. “She ran really good and that was a really nice filly that beat her. She shook loose and we came running and were closing but just couldn’t catch her, especially at a mile-and-a-sixteenth with a slow pace.”
Prior to the Athenia, Abaco was beaten a head by Strathnaver-GB as the favorite in the $100,000 Lady Baltimore on Sept. 21 at Pimlico when she lacked clear running room in mid-stretch and closed with a rush to just miss.
“She just couldn’t get loose,” said McGaughey, a two-time Cardinal Handicap winner with Charge My Account (1983) and Criminologist (2007). “She just got beat and ran a really good race that day. I like the mile-and-an eighth on Saturday – I didn’t want to run her a mile-and-a-half (in Saturday’s Grade III, $150,000 Long Island Handicap at Aqueduct) – and this looks to be the spot.”
Abaco (17-4-7-2—$328,669) will be reunited with Rosie Napravnik and will break from post eight under 116 pounds. Napravnik is the nation’s eighth leading money earner among jockeys with $11.7 million and she piloted the Kentucky-bred mare in the Lady Baltimore.
The complete Cardinal Handicap field (with jockeys and assigned weights) from the rail out: Embarr (Channing Hill, 115); Starstruck-IRE (Robby Albarado, 118); Soft Whisper (Corey Lanerie, 115); Street of Gold (Noberto Arroyo Jr., 111); Miz Ida (Shaun Bridgmohan, 118); Solid Appeal (Joe Rocco Jr., 119); Somali Lemonade (Julien Leparoux, 119); Abaco (Rosie Napravnik, 116); My Perfect Ten (Brian Hernandez Jr., 114); and Rare Event (Jon Court, 114).
Solid Appeal (16-5-2-2—$415,289) will make her first start in eight weeks after faltering as the 2-1 choice in the $295,952 Canadian (GII) at Woodbine. Earlier in the year, she prevailed in the $206,612 Nassau (GII) and $191,746 Dance Smartly (GII) for trainer Reade Baker.
Somali Lemonade (15-3-3-2--$420,806), Starstruck-IRE (12-3-2-1—$151,890) and Miz Ida (15-7-2-0—$453,985) exit Grade I races. The Michael Matz-trained Somali Lemonade gave way to sixth in the $600,000 Flower Bowl Invitational (GI) at Belmont Park. Starstruck-IRE was fourth in the $250,500 Rodeo Drive (GI) at Santa Anita for trainer Larry Jones. Miz Ida – the only horse in the field to have won more than half of her starts – finished fourth for trainer Steve Margolis in the $400,000 First Lady (GI).
The Cardinal Handicap was originally named the Kentucky Cardinal when it debuted in 1974 to honor the official state bird, but was shortened when the race moved from dirt to turf in 1987.
Saturday’s 10-race card includes four allowance races, including a 1 1/16-mile event for 2-year-olds. Almost Famous, who was fourth in the $61,800 Street Sense less than two weeks ago, is among the 10 juveniles entered for the $43,000 allowance/optional claiming event that goes as Race 7 at 3:36 p.m.