White Abarrio stays strong in stretch to win the Florida Derby by 1 1/4 lengths

White Abarrio (left), ridden by Tyler Gaffalione, and Pappacap, ridden by Edwin Gonzalez, race at the Florida Derby.
White Abarrio (left), ridden by Tyler Gaffalione, and Pappacap, ridden by Edwin Gonzalez, race through the final turn at the Florida Derby on Saturday.
(Matthew Stockman / Getty Images)

The Kentucky Derby picture became clearer on Saturday as at least six horses likely qualified for the world’s most famous horse race.

Perhaps the most resilient performance was by White Abarrio, who split horses in the stretch and held off Charge It to win the $1-million Florida Derby by 1 1/4 lengths at Gulfstream Park.

The feel-good story of the day, a filly beating the boys in the $1.25-million Arkansas Derby, didn’t happen as Secret Oath finished third behind Cyberknife and Barber Road. Trainer Wayne Lukas, who won the 1988 Kentucky Derby with a filly, Winning Colors, was hoping to repeat history but it likely won’t happen.


A third-place finish gets you 20 points, which likely won’t be enough to qualify for the Derby. But Secret Oath easily has enough points in filly qualifying races to make the starting field of the Kentucky Oaks.

The path to winning the Florida Derby did not go according to a normal script for White Abarrio. After winning the Holy Bull Stakes by 4 1/2 lengths on Feb. 5, trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. was forced to skip the Fountain of Youth, the normal next step between the Holy Bull Stakes and Florida Derby.

“Going into the Holy Bull … we had missed two works,” Joseph said. “We were giving up a huge fitness edge. To see him win that day, I thought it was remarkable. He ran such a big race, we figured if he’s good enough and able to win that race, he should be good enough to give him a good chance to win the Florida Derby.”

Trainer Bob Baffert was denied an emergency stay by the Kentucky Court of Appeals and already has begun to take down signage at his Santa Anita barn.

April 1, 2022

Once again, things didn’t go exactly as planned.

“Everything went perfect from then until 12 days ago, and we had a hiccup,” Joseph said of White Abarrio developing a slight fever. “In the back of your mind, you’re like, geez, we should have run him in the Fountain of Youth, but it worked out.”

Jockey Tyler Gaffalione, riding White Abarrio for the second time, was emotional after the race.

“I don’t even know what to say right now,” Gaffalione said. “I feel like I’m on cloud nine. This is all my childhood dreams come true. To win the Florida Derby, growing up down here, it’s just so amazing.”


The road to the Kentucky Derby is in its final stages with races worth 100 points to the winner and 40 points for second. The winners definitely have enough points to make the 20-horse starting field on May 7. Forty points is usually enough to also make the field. If Charge It, trained by Todd Pletcher, goes to Louisville, he will be one of the few non-stakes winners in the race.

White Abarrio paid $7.80, $4.20 and $2.80. Simplification, the favorite, was third and Pappacap was fourth in the 11-horse race going 1 1/8 miles.

In Arkansas, Cyberknife paid $13.60, $7.00 and $3.60. Doppleganger, running his first race for trainer Tim Yakteen after being transferred from the barn of Bob Baffert, finished fourth.

In the day’s other major stakes race, Tiz the Bomb ($5.20 to win) came off the pace to win the $600,000 Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park by 2 1/4 lengths over Tawny Port. The race is not usually a route to winning the Kentucky Derby because the race is run on a synthetic surface, unlike the dirt tracks at the major qualifiers. Kenny McPeek was the winning trainer and Brian Hernandez Jr. was the jockey.

Next Saturday will be the final three major qualifying races headed by the Santa Anita Derby, where Forbidden Kingdom will meet Messier. The other major races for 3-year-olds that day are the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland and the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.