With no Bustin Stones to worry about after the race favorite was scratched due to a stone bruise, the job for the Shadwell Stable 5-year-old was made considerably easier for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.
On top of that, the maiden winner Sammarco fired out of the starting gate and ensured a wicked pace as Black Seventeen and First Defence hurried to keep up. Abraaj showed no interest in running with those and it wasn't until Garcia began going to work on the favorite early on the turn that he showed much notice at all. After fractions of :22.06 and :44.57, a tired group of front-runners could not match strides as Abraaj, who swung five wide at the quarter pole and stormed down the center of the track under much urging to a 2 1/2-length victory. The final time was 1:10.23.
"I don’t know why he wasn’t running smooth early," Garcia said. "When I started riding him, he finally started to get going. Then, he just kept going and ran very, very good.”
Abraaj earned a berth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) at Santa Anita Oct. 25 with the win in the Vanderbilt, which is part of the Breeders' Cup Challenge series.
"It’s great for a trainer and owner to know that they are in (for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint)," McLaughlin said. "They don’t have to worry about points or graded earnings. When you’re in, you can adjust your schedule accordingly.”
First Defence finished second, 1 1/2 lengths in front of 21-1 shot Sammarco, who nosed Thor's Echo and Black Seventeen for third. E Z Warrior stumbled at the break and finished last.
"Once he started running, I thought the leader had to slow down," McLaughlin said of the winner. "I felt good at the quarter pole."
Eighth in last year's Vanderbilt, Abraaj was coming off a strong third-place finish in the True North Handicap at Belmont Park June 7. The son of Carson City--Kris's Intention (Kris S.) rallied to finish just a half-length behind division leader Benny the Bull. The bay improved to 5-4-2 in 13 starts with earnings of $338,050.
“Abraaj needed time off from the Vanderbilt last year," McLaughlin said. "The time off did him good. He put on weight, he looks great and sound."
Bred in Kentucky by Kidder, J. Griggs and J. Mamakos, Abraaj paid $5.40, $3.10 and $2.40. First Defence, a grade III winner in his previous start for trainer Bobby Frankel, returned $4.10 and $3, with Sammarco paying $5.10 to show.
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