Tom Albertrani may have a promising 3-year-old on the trail to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) – or so it would seem after the $109,000 Whirlaway Stakes. Going 1 1/16-miles over Aqueduct’s inner track, Darley Stables' Barrier Reef battled it down to the wire with a tenacious Roman Emperor and eked out a determined half-length win for the trainer Feb. 2.
The victory, the second in Barrier Reef’s four-race career, now has the son of Mizzen Mast primed for a start in the $250,000 Gotham (gr. III), which will be run at 1 1/16-miles at Aqueduct March 8. He came into the Whirlaway after running fourth in the Jan. 5 Count Fleet Stakes behind the undefeated Giant Moon, Spanky Fischbein, and Roman Emperor. With the colt doing most of his running three-wide on the turns, that effort was less than impressive. But it might have added a dash of maturity to the lightly-raced starter.
“After his last race, he came back blowing more than you would have expected him to,” Albertrani said. “Maybe he got a lot more out of that race, stepping up against a better group of horses. He trained a lot better going into this race. He was really on his game in his last couple of works. He was always on the bridle.”
Second at the start, Barrier Reef was taken back to fifth by a patient Alan Garcia as longshot Sonic Boom led Roman Emperor and Spanky Fischbein through the first quarter in :23.62 and the half in :48.02.
“Every step of the way, I was confident,” Albertrani said. “Going down the backstretch, I thought he was going to win.”
Jockey Jeremy Rose then sent Roman Emperor to the lead as Barrier Reef and Garcia rallied on the outside, running through three-quarters in 1:13.04. Neither horse quit, but Barrier Reef had something left to win in 1:44.47.
“The other horse (Roman Emperor) was trying so hard,” Garcia said. “I was most confident with my horse on the outside; I wanted to put him in the best spot. He was a nice horse today. He was the best.”
Trainer Steve Klesaris said that Roman Emperor was also likely to re-appear in the Gotham.
“He ran great,” Klesaris said. “The trip went good, and he fought on hard. I don’t think he kicked over to his outside lead in the lane, but he was still digging in and trying hard. He was on the wrong lead in his last race, too. Hopefully, this is something he’ll figure out with maturity. We’ll definitely think about the Gotham.”
Barrier Reef returned $12.80, $5.60, and $3.90 to win. Roman Emperor brought $4 and $3.10 to place, while Texas Wildcatter and jockey Norberto Arroyo Jr. paid $3.80 to show. Spanky Fischbein, Apple Special, favored Cave’s Valley, and Sonic Boom rounded out the order of finish.
Bred in Kentucky by Matthew Herbener out of the Premiership mare Partyship, Barrier Reef was a $350,000 purchase from the Barretts March sale of 2-year-olds in training. He has won twice and finished third once in four career starts, and has earnings of $106,476.