Phipps Stable's Kentucky homebred Abaco came flying late to capture her first stakes in Saturday's Grade 3, $112,800 Cardinal Handicap at Churchill Downs as the 5-2 second choice and paid her supporters $7.60 for the victory.
"I was tickled to death with her," trainer Shug McGaughey said. "She never had won a stake. She had been second in three. She's so deserving of winning one and I was really glad. She should have won down in Baltimore (in Laurel's Lady Baltimore on September 21), but today we wanted to make sure she didn't get in trouble. (Jockey) Rosie (Napravnik) rode a big race on her and we're all really, really pleased."
The five-year-old mare was bothered at the start and broke last in the field of 10 as Soft Whisper drew away by seven lengths to post an opening quarter in :23 4/5. The field closed that margin in half at the half-mile mark which was run in :48 1/5. Soft Whisper would put up three-quarters of a mile in 1:13 3/5 before fading.
"I thought she (Napravnik) rode her good," McGaughey said. "She didn't get away good, but she got her over and saved the ground. She got in good position and I think she probably thought she was on the best horse. She got her in the right spot and she was able to finish good. We're all very pleased."
Abaco eventually settled in midpack after the slow start but was still 13 lengths off the lead at the half-mile mark. She slowly started to chip into that deficit while 2-1 favorite Starstruck emerged with a brief lead on the outside as the field turned for home. Starstruck started to weaken while eventual third-place finisher Solid Appeal had a half-length lead in the the stretch, but it was Miz Ida who slipped though down along the rail and was the one to catch.
"She didn't come out real fast, but it really isn't a big factor with her because she comes from so far off the pace anyway," Napravnik said. "My instructions were to keep her out of trouble and that's all I had to do. She's got a huge kick and that's her strength."
Abaco angled out in the stretch and surged late to run down the leader in the final yards to prevail by a length. She stopped the teletimer in 1:50 4/5 for the 1 1/8-mile test over the good turf.
Miz Ida took second by a head over third-place finisher Solid Appeal. Starstruck, Somali Lemonade, Street of Gold, My Perfect Ten, Soft Whisper, Rare Event and Embarr rounded out the order of finish.
"These past few months our horses have run good in all of these stakes, but we've often been second-best -- just beaten by a horse that had a little more," said Steve Margolis, trainer of Miz Ida. "But she ran good. (Jockey) Shaun (Bridgmohan) saved the ground and he didn't give her too much to do. He said a mile-and-an-eighth is kind of pushing it with her, but he had her in a good tracking spot. She came through on the rail and she did what she had to do, but the eight-horse (Abaco) kind of got rolling and just had a little more. But it was a big effort.
"The plan is to keep her here for about a week and have her checked out, and then we'll send her over to Amy LoPresti's place (in Lexington)," Margolis added. "We'll probably give her the rest of November and all of December off, then bring her back for the Fair Grounds and get her ready. It's possible that we could run her at the end of the (Fair Grounds) meet, but probably be looking more for something at Keeneland or Churchill. She had a good year and between this second and the second at Parx, she runs hard and she tries."
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 Saratoga's turf 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 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 against stakes company at Saratoga on September 1 and came in fourth. 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 just last month. With Saturday's score, she banked $66,439 to increase her lifetime earnings to $395,108 from an 18-5-7-2 career line.
"I talked to Mr. Phipps about it and said there was a race at Gulfstream that would fit her on February 8 and I'll try to run her before that," said McGaughey, when asked if Abaco has more racing in front of her or if she would become a broodmare prospect. "And I said 'Let's make up our minds then.' He said, 'If I thought she could be one of the tops in her division, I'd sure like to keep her in training.' So, we'll let her tell us.
"But she's awfully good right now, and she has been since we brought her back. After her race at Keeneland, I turned her out for a while. She's run well over the Gulfstream turf course and I wouldn't think there's any reason why we wouldn't want to keep her training."
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.