Met Mile: Dutrow is confident in his new charge White Abarrio

Met Mile: Dutrow is confident in his new charge White Abarrio
Photo: Susie Raisher / NYRA

Elmont, N.Y.

White Abarrio will be coming off a 14-week layoff when he faces a deep and talented field in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap on Saturday as part of a stakes-filled Belmont Stakes undercard.

That would seem problematic to many, but not so much to Rick Dutrow Jr., his controversial new trainer. Dutrow is working his way back after 10 years on the sidelines after one of the harshest suspensions in racing history.

White Abarrio entered the Belmont Park barn that Dutrow shares with fellow trainer George Weaver May 23 after owners C Two Racing Stable and Antonio Pagnano removed him from embattled trainer Saffie Joseph Jr.’s care. The 4-year-old colt, whose previous campaign was highlighted by a Florida Derby (G1) victory, immediately moved to the head of the class of the 25 or so horses entrusted to Dutrow since he was reinstated.

Although Dutrow, 64, has had very little time to get acquainted with White Abarro, he is confident that obstacle can be overcome.

“It would be challenging if there were different things with the horse, but he’s been like clockwork. There’s been nothing but fun stuff around him,” he said. “There has been no pressure. There has been nothing challenging. It’s all been so smooth.”

Defending Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Cody’s Wish, ranked among the best horses in the country, drew the rail against eight foes. The 7-5 favorite will be ridden by Junior Alvarado for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. Dr. Schivel, a dual Grade 1 winner, represents another formidable foe as he ships in from the West Coast for trainer Mark Glatt. Charge It, talented but erratic, is capable of producing an upset on his best day for Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher.

White Abarrio will break from farthest outside in post 9. He will have Tyler Gaffalione aboard and is given a puncher’s chance at 10-1.

“I’m just glued to our horse, and he has not been a challenge,” Dutrow said. “He’s been a pleasure, so he’s simple to get ready for a big race.”

White Abarrio’s career has been a rollercoaster. His Florida Derby triumph was followed by a 16th-place clunker in the Kentucky Derby. He closed his sophomore season with a solid third-place effort in the Cigar Mile (G1) at Aqueduct but then ran up the track in struggling home eighth in the Jan. 28 Pegasus World Cup (G1) at Gulfstream Park.

In his only other start this year, he dusted Weyburn by 4 1/2 lengths in an allowance optional claiming race at Gulfstream on March 4. That improved his record to 12: 5-1-2 with $1,156,350 in earnings.

There is no comparison between the Met Mile and that relative cakewalk. “This is no easy spot, babe,” said Dutrow. “Our horse is going to have to show up, and I can’t imagine that he won’t. He’s been training too good for him to go out there and not run a big race.

“I don’t know where that’s going to put him with these horses. It’s an acid test for all of them. But he belongs with them and he’s doing good and he loves the track. So we’re not stuttering.”

White Abarrio has worked twice at Belmont Park for his new barn. He traveled five furlongs in 59.02 seconds on May 30 and handled the same distance in 1:02.55 on June 5.

When Dutrow was asked whether he wished White Abarrio had arrived sooner, he replied, “yeah, I wish I had him for the last seven or eight years. That would have been great with me. The longer I can be around horses, any kind of horses, the better off for me and them.”

Dutrow received his stiff suspension after incurring 70 infractions at 15 racetracks in five states. On Nov. 3, 2010, a search of his Aqueduct barn uncovered three syringes filled with xylazine. That is a legal anesthetic but is not permitted on race days. Beyond that, no one other than a licensed state veterinarian is allowed to possess such medical equipment. He claimed the syringes were planted.

Dutrow had gained a prominent place in the game before he lost his license. He is best known as the fun-loving trainer of Big Brown, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner in 2008. He also oversaw Saint Liam, the 2005 horse of the year, among other standouts.

He does not know whether he will retain White Abarrio after the Met Mile. “I have no idea what’s going on after this. Nothing has been said. I would be hoping and praying that they will let us continue on with him,” he said.

A strong performance by White Abarrio under difficult circumstances could not only influence that decision but could encourage other owners to assign horses to Dutrow. He is eager to expand.

“I want a full stable in New York and a full stable in Kentucky, and we’ll see where we go from there,” he said. “I believe they are going to give me stalls in Kentucky soon enough, and I’ve got some good guys to go there and help us get started.”

Dutrow returned to the game with a flourish. He won with the first horse he entered when Prince of Pharoah, a 6-year-old New York-bred gelding he claimed for $45,000, took the sixth race at Belmont Park on May 6.

2023 Metropolitan G1

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