Four horses booked their spots in the Kentucky Derby with star performances at the weekend – or did they? White Abarrio was impressive in the G1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, Cyberknife finally repaid some faith when beating Barber Road in the 2022 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park, and Tiz The Bomb wrapped it up in the G3 Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park – but he’s a better horse on turf and could yet miss Churchill Downs in favour of a trip to Europe.
2022 Florida Derby
Abarrio answers the call
The sky was blue at Gulfstream Park on Saturday, but it was a grey day for sure as White Abarrio ran his way into the gate for the Kentucky Derby with an impressive victory in the Florida Derby, the afternoon’s major feature.
The fine-looking grey colt was always in the right place under Tyler Gaffalione, the 5-2 second-choice never too far from the pace set first by Classic Causeway and then by the duelling Pappacap and Simplification. Gaffalione brought him three wide on the turn, sent him quickly to the lead, and White Abarrio had it all under control at the eighth-pole, rolling on to win by a length and a quarter in a time of 1:50 and three-fifths.
The inexperienced Charge It came out of the pack to challenge but showed his greenness when lugging in behind the winner in the final sixteenth, although he was comfortably second-best a length clear of the favourite Simplification. Pappacap kept grinding away for fourth; the well-fancied Classic Causeway dropped right out, finishing last.
White Abarrio is now unbeaten in four races at the Miami circuit, the only defeat of his career coming at Churchill Downs in November, and the dashing grey will get the chance to make amends for that reverse on the first Saturday in May, the 100 ‘Road’ points he earned here assuring him of a place in the big race.
“Winning this race means the world to me. The Florida Derby is up there with the Kentucky Derby because I’m based at Gulfstream,” said trainer Saffie Joseph, who had sealed the trainers’ title at the circuit for the first time the previous day. “I’m blessed to have this horse. Onward we go.”
The Florida Derby is one of the key preps for the Kentucky Derby, with seven winners of the race since 2000 going on to be first past the post at Churchill Downs. White Abarrio, winner of the G3 Holy Bull here on his previous start, must now be one of the main contenders for the ‘Roses’, while the 40 RTKD points earned by Charge It – making his stakes debut on just his third start – should be enough to ensure his participation.
2022 Arkansas Derby
Cyberknife cuts loose
Brad Cox is in the record books as the winning trainer of the 2021 Kentucky Derby, although for obvious reasons he didn’t get to enjoy that feeling on the day. Now he has a big chance of winning the Derby the right way with Cyberknife, who made his stakes breakthrough with an authoritative victory in the 2022 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park on Saturday.
The focus beforehand was on the favourite Secret Oath, a filly taking on the colts, but she never had track position as longshot Kavod set the fractions, with Cyberknife – who was perky enough in the post parade to unseat Florent Geroux – much closer to the action. The race changed dramatically on the turn when Cyberknife swept between horses and into the lead, and the 5-1 third-choice drew off in dominant fashion to win by two and three-quarter lengths, stopping the clock in 1:50 and two-fifths.
Secret Oath came running hard at the top of the stretch but flattened out in the final furlong, giving up second spot to the rallying Barber Road by three-quarters of a length. Second-favourite We The People never showed, finishing seventh.
“This is a good colt, we’ve liked him for a long, long time,” said Cox. “He’s not polished mentally but he’s getting there all the time, he’s starting to put it all together. He’s definitely a player in the Derby.”
Cyberknife, a son of Gun Runner, had been well beaten on his only previous stakes start, but is evidently a later-maturing type and is only now beginning to reach his peak. The 100 RTKD points on offer to the winner assured Cyberknife of a place in the gate for the Kentucky Derby, while runner-up Barber Road now has sufficient points to join him despite never having won a prep. Secret Oath is likely to revert to plan A in the Kentucky Oaks, for which she already has enough RTKO points to qualify.
2022 Jeff Ruby Steaks
Bomb plans up in the air
When a horse hits the 100pt RTKD jackpot, it’s normally full steam ahead for the Kentucky Derby. Not so for Tiz The Bomb, winner of the Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park, whose immediate future is as yet unclear.
The colt’s ability is undisputed after a strong showing on this synthetic surface, the 8-5 favourite taking the race by the scruff of the neck on the turn under Brian Hernandez and clearing away through the stretch to beat Tawny Port by two and a quarter lengths, stopping the clock in 1:48 and three-fifths. Rich Strike came from the back to be nearest at the finish in third, another three and a half lengths away.
However, Tiz The Bomb is markedly better on turf than he is on dirt, and trainer Kenny McPeek had been keen on a trip to Britain for the G1 2,000 Guineas over a straight mile at Newmarket a week before the Kentucky Derby. But now, with his horse safely qualified for Churchill Downs, albeit through winning a race of lower quality compared to a few others, it might be time to revise the schedule.
“He’s really special, he’s just a pleasure to be around,” said McPeek, who also has Smile Happy as a potential Derby runner. “Now we have a lot of options. I think he’s a better grass horse than he is a dirt horse, but we don’t have to make a decision right away.”
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