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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

FLORIDA DERBY FIELD SET

Edited Gulfstream Park Release – Tami Bobo’s Simplification and C2 Racing Stables LLC and La Milagrosa Stable LLC’s White Abarrio are scheduled for a long-awaited rematch in Saturday’s $1 million Curlin Florida Derby (G1) presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale at Xalapa at Gulfstream Park.

            The 71st running of the Curlin Florida Derby will headline a 14-race program with 10 stakes, including six graded stakes, worth $2.2 million in purses. The all-stakes Late Pick 4 and Late Pick 5 pools will both be guaranteed at $750,000. First-race post time is set for 11:30 a.m. 

            Simplification has been installed as the 5-2 morning-line favorite after drawing Post Position No. 3 Wednesday, while White Abarrio is rated second at 3-1 after drawing Post Position No. 7.

            Antonio Sano-trained Simplification was no match for Saffie Joseph Jr.-trained White Abarrio in the Feb. 5 Holy Bull (G3), in which he finished second, beaten 4 ½ lengths, following a troubled start and a wide trip.

A rematch between the two Triple Crown prospects was put on hold when Joseph opted to bypass the March 5 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth (G2) in favor of training White Abarrio up to the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby. Simplification took full advantage of the Holy Bull winner’s absence, scoring a dominating victory.

            While White Abarrio has had a few minor setbacks on the road to the Florida Derby, Simplification has kept a steady schedule of development during the Championship Meet. The son of Not This Time, a front-running winner of the Jan. 1 Mucho Macho Man, has demonstrated a new dimension since being sent around two turns.

He closed for second in the mile 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull before rating in seventh on the backstretch in the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth before making a sweeping move to the lead and drawing away to win by 3 ½ lengths.

            “I love this horse,” Sano said. “He has so much heart.”

            Sano, who ventured from Venezuela to South Florida in 2009, saddled 2017 Fountain of Youth winner Gunnevera for a third-place finish in the Florida Derby. A Florida Derby victory remains a priority for Venezuela’s all-time winningest trainer with more than 3,000 victories.

            “I’d be very proud for me, my family, my clients and for Gulfstream,” said Sano, who has saddled more than 860 winners in the U.S. “My house is Gulfstream. I’d be happy to win this race in my house.”

            The ultimate goal, of course, is the Kentucky Derby (G1) on the first Saturday in May.

            “The Kentucky Derby is five weeks after the Florida Derby. I know there will be different horses, but I think my horse will have a chance,” said Sano, who saddled Gunnevera for a seventh-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.

Starters in Gulfstream Park’s tradition-rich stakes for 3-year-olds have gone on to win 58 Triple Crown races, including 24 runnings of the Kentucky Derby. Participants in this year’s Florida Derby will vie for 170 qualifying points for the May 7 Kentucky Derby with 100 going to the winner, 40 to the runner-up, 20 to the third-place finisher and 10 to the fourth-place finisher.

            Simplification, who has already earned sufficient points to be included in the Kentucky Derby field, is one of four entrants in the Florida Derby field of 11 that is eligible for a share of the $100,000 Florida-Bred Bonus, which will be distributed on a 70-20-10 basis for an in-the-money finish. There will also be a $100,000 ‘Win Only’ bonus available to offspring of Florida Sire Stakes-nominated stallions.

            Jose Ortiz has the return call aboard Simplification.

            White Abarrio had missed a couple of workouts prior to his overpowering victory over Simplification in the Holy Bull, prompting Joseph to point directly toward the Florida Derby to give the Kentucky-bred colt sufficient time to bounce back from such a dazzling performance under less-than-optimal conditions.

            Unfortunately, the Joseph trainee spiked a fever early last week, forcing Joseph to readjust his training schedule, cancelling a scheduled workout Sunday in favor of a three-furlong blow-out Tuesday.

“All his works had gotten better and better. But things never seem to go the way you want them to, and we got a curveball thrown at us,” said Joseph, who expressed satisfaction with the swift breeze in 34.96 seconds. “We’ll hope he shows up in the race. If he does, I think he’s as good as any of the horses.”

Because he didn’t run in the Fountain of Youth, White Abarrio has one chance in the Florida Derby to earn his way into the Kentucky Derby field.

            “If you’re good enough, you’re going to make it,” Joseph said. “You don’t want to be there if you don’t have a chance to win. He acts like he’s good enough. His Holy Bull was impressive. If he would repeat that you would think he’d have a very good chance.”

              The son of Race Day was purchased by his current connections after debuting at Gulfstream Sept. 24 with a 6 ¾-length triumph. He went on to win an optional claiming allowance at Gulfstream by four lengths five weeks later. White Abarrio concluded his 2021 campaign with a third-place finish in the Nov. 27 Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs behind Smile Happy and Classic Causeway.

            Tyler Gaffalione has the return mount on White Abarrio.

            Like Simplification, Kentucky West Racing LLC and Clarke Cooper’s Classic Causeway has thrived since his last meeting with White Abarrio.

Classic Causeway, a first-out winner at Saratoga last summer before finishing third in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland and second in the Kentucky Jockey Club at 1 1/16 miles, captured the Feb. 12 Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs in his 2022 debut in advance of a dominating front-running 2 ½-length triumph in the March 12 Tampa Bay Derby (G2).

“It just seems like he came out of the Tampa Bay race – the Tampa Bay Derby – so well that it seemed logical to me to just ship him down the road rather than to take him to Kentucky and maybe fight the elements up there. The weather can get funny in the spring,” said trainer Brian Lynch, who was targeting the April 9 Blue Grass (G1) at Keeneland.

With his victories in the Sam F. Davis and Tampa Bay Derby, the son of Giant’s Causeway has already earned his way into the Kentucky Derby field.

“I never get too far ahead of myself. I live for today and pray for tomorrow,” Lynch said. “We’ll take it one day at a time and hopefully, he keeps taking us in the direction he’s taken us and keeps improving, because the waters will get deeper. But he does seem like the right horse to be doing it with.”

            Irad Ortiz Jr. is set for a return aboard Classic Causeway, who was rated as co-third choice at 7-2 with Whisper Hill Farm LLC’s Charge It.

            Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher is slated to seek a record seventh Florida Derby success when he saddles Charge It, a son of Tapit who is coming off an eye-catching 8 ½-length maiden victory at Gulfstream Feb. 12.

            Charge It, who is out of a daughter of multiple Grade 1 stakes winner Take Charge Lady, is scheduled to make his third career start in the Florida Derby after losing a photo finish in his debut and graduating impressively. Pletcher saddled Constitution (2014) and Materiality (2015) for Florida Derby wins in their third starts.

            Luis Saez has the return call.

Rustlewood Farm Inc.’s Pappacap, who scored an impressive debut victory at Gulfstream last May, is slated for a return run in the Florida Derby. The Mark Casse-trained son of Gun Runner followed up his maiden win with a victory in the Best Pal (G2) at Del Mar. The Florida-bred colt went on to finish second in both the American Pharoah (G1) at Santa Anita and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Del Mar to complete his 2-year-old campaign.

Pappacap began his 3-year-old campaign with a third-place finish in the Lecomte (G3) at Fair Grounds, three-quarters of a length behind Call Me Midnight and a half-length behind runner-up Epicenter. He turned in a disappointing eighth-place finish in the Risen Star (G2) at the New Orleans track in his most recent start.

            “I’ve scratched my head trying to figure out why he hasn’t run better. Every indication is that he’s a really good horse,” Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse said. “There are a lot of questions, especially after his last performance.”

            Edwin Gonzalez, who was aboard for Pappacap’s winning debut, has the call.

OGMA Investments LLC and Jack Hardin Towell Jr.’s O Captain, who rallied from 11th and last to finish third in the Fountain of Youth, is expected by his connections to appreciate the added distance of the Florida Derby.

The son of Carpe Diem entered the Fountain of Youth off a front-running debut victory at 5 ½ furlongs and a third-place finish in the six-furlong Limehouse, both at Gulfstream Park.

Joel Rosario is scheduled to ride O Captain for the first time Saturday.

Miracle’s International Trading Inc.’s Strike Hard, who rallied from 12th to finish fourth behind Classic Causeway in the Sam F. Davis last time out, enters the Florida Derby with two victories and five in-the-money finishes at Gulfstream. The Matthew Williams-trained son of Flashback finished second behind Simplification in the Jan. 1 Mucho Macho Man two starts back.

Junior Alvarado, who rode Strike Hard in his maiden-breaker and his runner-up finish in the Mucho Macho Man, returns to the saddle.

Carrie Brogden’s Steal Sunshine, a Bobby Dibona-trained son of Constitution who finished second in a recent Gulfstream optional claiming allowance; Daniel Alonso’s King of Truth, runner-up in a pair of starter allowances in his last two; Stonehedge LLC’s Cajun’s Magic, a son of Cajun Breeze who finished fifth in the Holy Bull last time out; and Arindel’s Clapton, a son of Brethren who won a Florida-bred optional claiming allowance last time out, round out the field.

Cajun’s Magic and Clapton are eligible for the $100,000 FSS ‘Win Only’ Bonus

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