BALLSTON SPA | PURSE: $250,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS & UP | FILLIES & MARES | GRADE 2 | 1 1/16 MILES (TURF)
Phipps Stable's homebred Abaco came all the way from last to get up by a neck in Saturday's Grade 2, $250,000 Ballston Spa Stakes at Saratoga.
"I'm excited. In her last three races, she's really had some good moves and been unlucky to lose," trainer Shug McGaughey said. "[Jockey] Jose [Ortiz] rode a great race today and got her in good position. She's a funny kind of filly; if you allow her to lay too close she won't finish as well. I was a little bit afraid that if we did get a pace that he might let her ease up a little sooner than we wanted to. I told him she's going to be back, so you're just going to have to judge your move on what the pace is, and he did a good job of that."
Abaco broke last in the field of six as Night Song posted opening fractions of :23 ⅘ seconds, :48 ⅘ seconds and 1:13 ⅕.
Abaco was still in last as the field turned for home, but was gearing up for a run to the wire. The six-year-old mare swung five wide into the upper stretch to give herself some running room. Abaco caught up to the leaders inside the eighth-pole, looked like she might surge past, but had to fend off eventual runner-up Strathnaver in the final yards for her second career stakes victory.
"She doesn't have any speed, so we have to rate her from behind, and today was the perfect trip," Ortiz said. "Down the backside I was behind the favorite [Filimbi], and that was the one I wanted to follow. I was right there, and when I turned for home I knew she was going to give me the big move she gave me last time. By the eighth pole, I knew I had Johnny [Velazquez, aboard Strathnaver]. I passed everybody else, so I knew there wasn't anybody else coming."
Abaco stopped the teletimer in 1:42 ⅗ for the 1 1/16-mile test over the good inner turf. The 4-1 second choice on the board returned $10.60 to her supporters for the score.
"I didn't know if she would get there or not, but I liked the way she was positioned the whole race," McGaughey added. "She's trained really well, she's done really well up here. I watched her the other day and said to my assistant, 'She's never looked this good.'"
Strathnaver took second by two lengths over Nellie Cashman in third. Centre Court, Night Song and Filimbi, the 3-5 favorite, rounded out the order of finish. Dayatthespa was scratched.
"She was just flat," said Bill Mott, trainer of last-place finisher Filimbi. "No excuse. The ground might not have been preferable, but she was just flat."
"It took her awhile to get going," McGaughey said. "She probably ran seven or eight times before breaking her maiden, then won four or five in a row. I had to stop her again and give her a summer off, and she's been going well. My plan since the Sheepshead Bay was to wait for the Diana. Today, I thought going 1 1/16 miles she would get a little more pace. The pace was OK, but with a little bit of cut in the ground I knew it wasn't going to be blistering."
Abaco was unsuccessful in breaking her maiden in six tries as a three-year-old and did not do so until her third start as a four-year-old in July 2012 over this course. She went on to win her next three starts in optional claiming races to close out the year. The chestnut made her stakes debut in her first start as a five-year-old in the Suwannee River Stakes at Gulfstream Park, finishing second. In her next start she crossed the wire in sixth in the Jenny Wiley Stakes at Keeneland but was placed fifth through disqualification.
The daughter of Giant's Causeway took a break over the summer and returned to the track to finish fourth against stakes company at Saratoga in September. Abaco just missed by a head in the Lady Baltimore Stakes later that month at Laurel Park and was exiting a runner-up finish in the Athenia over Belmont's Widener turf in October. The chestnut closed out 2013 in November with her first stakes win in the Grade 3 Cardinal Handicap at Churchill Downs.
Abaco kicked off her six-year-old campaign at Gulfstream Park finishing fourth in the Marshua's River in January and was third in the Suwannee River Stakes the following month. She took a two-month break and returned to the Jenny Wiley at Keeneland in April to finish third by a half-length. The chestnut was runner-up in the Sheepshead Bay at Belmont in May and was exiting a game fourth in the Diana over this course last month. With Saturday's score, she banked $150,000 to increase her lifetime earnings to $660,108 from a 24-6-8-4 career line.
Abaco is out of the Grade 2-winning Pleasant Colony mare Cat Cay, who is a half-sister to Grade 1 victor Strolling Along as well as Grade 2-placed Lion Hearted, who are both sires. Abaco's third dam is champion and 1989 Broodmare of the Year Relaxing, who produced 1988 two-year-old champion Easy Goer as well as Grade 1 scorers Easy Now and Cadillacing.