White Abarrio missed a couple of scheduled workouts last month after getting sick as he readied for his 3-year-old debut, but he didn’t miss a beat on the racetrack Feb. 5.
Beginning his year in the $250,000 Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park, arguably the strongest prep race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve contested yet this year, the son of Race Day pressed the early pace of Galt, took over just after six furlongs into the race, and pulled clear in the drive. He scored a 4 1/2-length victory over Simplification and Mo Donegal.
Away alertly under Tyler Gaffalione, who hustled him away from post 8 with a short run to the first turn, the gray colt was just off of splits of :23.93, :47.31, and 1:12.01 before leaving his foes behind and completing 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in the Holy Bull in 1:42.80.
White Abbario, who paid $14 to win, races for Clint Cornett’s C2 Racing Stable and Antonio Pagnano’s La Milagrosa Stable.
“I was a little hesitant to know how fit he was,” trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. said. “But quality horses overcome it. They overcome scenarios. They overcome trainers. They overcome unideal preparations.”
Simplification did his best to a different challenge Saturday and largely did so, with the exception of beating the winner. Expected by many to set the pace, Simplification broke poorly and instead was seventh of nine a quarter-mile into the race under patient early handling from Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano. Simplification began to pick off opponents down the backstretch and on the turn before flattening out somewhat out down the stretch.
Castellano said his mount was leaning back at the start after some commotion in the starting gate.
“It was the wrong time when they opened the door and he didn’t break sharp,” he added. “But I don’t have anything negative with the horse. I’m very positive on the horse.”
Other favorites didn’t have apparent excuses.
Favored Mo Donegal, well positioned into the first turn by Irad Ortiz Jr. after a slight stumble leaving the gate, failed to keep pace with his rivals leaving the backstretch and on the second turn, but leveled out once in the clear in the stretch. The eventual third-place finisher closed furiously to fall a head short of grabbing the place.
Dirt races at 1 1/16 miles at Gulfstream begin just before the usual finish line and end at what is customarily the sixteenth pole due to the track’s 1 1/8-mile circumference.
“I was happy with the way he closed,” said Mo Donegal’s trainer, Todd Pletcher. “It actually kind of hurt us that (Simplification) didn’t break well because it kind of altered the fractions of the race and there wasn’t a whole lot of pace on, and that’s always a disadvantage at Gulfstream.”
Two of the other horses that commanded mutuel support, Tiz the Bomb and Giant Game, lost by 20 lengths or more in their first races as 3-year-olds, finishing seventh and eighth, respectively. The former, hot in the post parade, failed to contend with the surface switch from turf to dirt, while Giant Game weakened after stalking the pace after starting from the outside post position.
Galt held on for fourth, 5 1/2 lengths behind the winner.
The top four finishers earned points on a 10-4-2-1 scale toward the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve at Churchill Downs. Both White Abarrio and Mo Donegal have 12 overall points counting points earned as juveniles.
Bred in Kentucky by Spendthrift Farm, White Abarrio is the lone starter from three foals produced from the Into Mischief mare Catching Diamonds. Her other foals are a Gormley 2-year-old colt named Cage Match and an unnamed yearling colt by Lord Nelson.
Catching Diamonds is a half-sister to group 3 winner Cool Cowboy.
White Abarrio twice was sold at Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company auctions, first purchased by Jose Ordonez for $7,500 from the Summerfield consignment as a short yearling from the 2020 Winter Mixed Sale. Fourteen months later, trainer Carlos Perez bought him for $40,000 from the Nice & Easy Thoroughbreds consignment to the March 2021 2-Year-Olds In Training Sale there.
Perez trained him for owner Clap Embroidery for his first race, a Sept. 24 victory at Gulfstream, before his current owners purchased him privately and turned him over to Joseph.
He then won an allowance optional claiming race at Gulfstream before finishing third with an eventful trip behind Smile Happy in the Nov. 27 Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs.
Joseph indicated he was inclined to have White Abarrio await the $1 million Grade 1 Curlin Florida Derby April 2, rather than start March 5 in the $400,000 Grade 2 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes. He said he would consult with his owners before making a final decision.
“He trains like a horse that will handle a distance, but until they do, you never know for sure,” Joseph said. “I thought the (Kentucky) Jockey Club was a great education. He showed he could get two turns and today he answered it emphatically.”
Gaffalione said the winner had “another gear” when he asked him to finish, and was pleased with how strong White Abarrio felt passing the wire. His mount improved to 3-for-4 with earnings of $240,850.
“I don’t think distance is going to be a problem,” he said. “He was just hitting his best stride down the lane and galloping out, I had a really difficult time pulling him up. I was calling for the outrider.”
Saturday’s card at Gulfstream produced a record total handle on Holy Bull Day in excess of $24.6 million, surpassing the previous mark set last year of more than $21.8 million.
France Weiner & Irwin Weiner