Viva Rafaela, Abaco Head Marshua's River

Gulfstream Park 615 X 400
Photo: Eclipse Spotswire
The $100,000 Marshua’s River Stakes (G3) attracted a dozen members of the fairer sex for its 15th renewal on Saturday at Gulfstream Park. It will mark the first start in stakes company on these shores for Viva Rafaela, who won the Grande Premio Diana (G1)—a classic race for 3-year-old fillies—in her native Brazil.            

Trainer Todd Pletcher intended to run Viva Rafaela last Saturday in the La Prevoyante Handicap (G3), but was forced to come up with a Plan B when Calder Race Course canceled that 12-furlong event.            

“My original plan with her was to run her in the La Prevoyante, but that went up all in smoke,” Pletcher pointed out. “I think she’s a filly that would like to go a little bit longer, but we had her ready to run and felt we’d take a look at this race. We were out of options. Hopefully she’s the kind of filly that can go in the Orchid [G3 on March 29] or a race like that down the road.”            

Fourth in her U.S. bow on July 31 at Saratoga, the 5-year-old had a rough time of it three weeks later over the same course and wound up eighth. She put it all together in an optional claimer on November 11 over this course and distance, and Pletcher acknowledged that Viva Rafaela has been a work in progress.            

“She had trained very well, but we’ve been trying to figure out how she needs to be ridden,” Pletcher explained. “The first time, we tried to take her back and she didn’t like that. The second time we tried to let her run freely and that didn’t work—she was a little too free. I think it all came together for her last time, and hopefully she’ll continue to improve and learn. That’s the thing with the South American horses—the longer they’re here, the more they acclimate.”            

Edgar Prado, who rode the filly last time, will have the call on Saturday when Viva Rafaela breaks from the four hole.            

Viva Rafaela will have her work cut out for her. The consistent Angelica Zapata won three straight stakes races before being beaten only a half-length in the My Charmer Handicap (G3) on December 7, while Abaco looks to add another graded-stakes victory to her resume.            

A homebred for the Phipps Stable, Abaco closed out 2013 with a win in the Cardinal Handicap (G3) at Churchill Downs on November 9. She turned six on January 1, but trainer Shug McGaughey feels the daughter of Giant’s Causeway hasn’t lost a beat.            

“She had a great work yesterday on the turf in 37 seconds, which was just to get her back in the game,” McGaughey said. “From watching her around the barn and the track, I was pretty impressed with what I saw. We’d like to have her through the year, but it depends on her. If her races down here are good, then we’ll probably keep her in training. We can always breed her. She’s a graded stakes winner and there’s pretty good upside with the type of pedigree that she’s got.”            

Abaco drew the outside post and will carry Javier Castellano.      

Also in the Marshua’s River field are Floral Romance, Miss Montreal, Silverette, Naples Bay, Deanaallen’skitten, Poetic Kid, Rose to Gold and Somali Lemonade. Dreaming of Sophia was entered as main-track only.


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