07/25/2008 11:00PM

Abraaj hits stride in nick of time

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – With three-eighths of a mile remaining in the six-furlong Alfred G. Vanderbilt Stakes, Abraaj was fourth in the six-horse field and seemingly going nowhere.

But approaching the top of the stretch, an aggressive Alan Garcia began getting into Abraaj, and the horse responded with a strong stretch run to win the Grade 2, $250,000 Vanderbilt by 2 1/2 lengths over First Defence. It was 1 1/2 lengths back to the pacesetting Sammarco, who got third by a nose over Thor’s Echo. Black Seventeen finished fifth with E Z Warrior checking in last.

Bustin Stones, the 2-1 morning-line favorite, was scratched due to a bruised right front foot.

The victory was the first in a stakes for Abraaj, but since the Vanderbilt was a Win and You’re In race, Abraaj has now earned a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Santa Anita on Oct. 25.

Abraaj, a 5-year-old son of Carson City, finished last in this race a year ago. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin put him away for the year after that race and in three starts this year Abraaj has two wins and a third-place finish in the Grade 2 True North.

“The time off did him a world of good and he’s really put on weight and muscle tone and he’s very sound, so he needed the time off after this race last year,” McLaughlin said.

At the three-eighths pole, it looked like Abraaj was running out of time in the Vanderbilt. Sammarco was setting a strong pace of 22.06 seconds and 44.57 while Abraaj was fourth and seemingly stuck in neutral. Garcia swung him out wide turning for home and with several cracks of both his left-handed and right-handed whip, Abraaj rallied for the win.

Abraaj, owned by Shadwell Stable, covered six furlongs in 1:10.23 and returned $5.80 as the favorite.

“I was riding and he didn’t want to go and at the quarter pole he picked up the bit and I said ‘Oh my God I have a chance,’ ” Garcia said. “I was riding so hard and my horse finished so well the last part.”

Though McLaughlin has done a superb job separating Abraaj and Lucky Island – undefeated in four starts this year – he said it is possible both could run in the Grade 1 Forego here on Aug. 30.