11/09/2013 4:42PM

Churchill Downs: Abaco gets up late to win Cardinal Handicap


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Abaco was the only major contender in the Cardinal Handicap without a graded victory on her resume, but the 5-year-old mare checked off that box when getting strong handling from Rosie Napravnik in capturing the 40th running of the Grade 3, $112,800 Cardinal on a sunny Saturday afternoon at Churchill Downs.

Rallying from well back in a field of 10 fillies and mares, Abaco caught Miz Ida with about 40 yards to go in the 1 1/8-mile turf race before edging away for a one-length score. The winner returned $7.60 after finishing in 1:50.85 over a course rated good. Solid Appeal was a head back in third, while Starstruck, the 2-1 favorite, was fourth.

Abaco, a 5-year-old Phipps Stable homebred, had racked up four wins and seven seconds from 17 prior starts but had never won a stakes until Saturday.

“She’d been training real well and we thought we’d send her down here to take a shot,” said Daisy Phipps Pulito, representing her family’s stable. “She ran a big race.”

Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, who won the 139th Kentucky Derby here in May with Orb for the Phippses and Stuart Janney, did not travel from New York to saddle Abaco. It was his third win in the Cardinal, following Charge My Account (1983) and Criminologist (2007).

“She’ll probably go back to Belmont Park and we’ll see whether or not she goes on to Florida for the winter,” said Phipps.

Soft Whisper sped away to a big lead in the Cardinal before being collared on the far turn, with Solid Appeal and Miz Ida among the first to charge past. With nearly a furlong to run, Abaco still had five opponents to run down but did so with a flourish, racing farthest out onto the course after Napravnik wheeled her out for the drive.

Weight assignments ranged from 119 to 115 pounds for all but the lone 3-year-old in the field, longshot Street of Gold, who carried 112. The winner carried 116.

The $2 exacta (8-5) paid $57.20; the $1 trifecta (8-5-6) returned $118.40; and the 10-cent superfecta (8-5-6-2) was worth $33.75.

In two earlier races Saturday:

* Major Marvel ($4.60), a one-time $10,000 claimer, posted his sixth straight victory and 21st from 51 career starts when dominating a $48,020 allowance at a mile on turf. The next three finishers are graded stakes winners – Cyber Secret, Guys Reward, and Regally Ready.

* Almost Famous ($7.20) was impressive in drawing away from nine other 2-year-olds in a tough 1 1/16-mile allowance that can be expected to produce a starter or two for the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club on closing day, Nov. 30.