Abaan Set to Make Title Defense in $200,000 McKnight (G3)
Among Nine Pegasus World Cup Day Stakes Worth $5.4 Million
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – A year after registering his last victory, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Alex Daigneault’s Abaan returns to South Florida looking to rediscover his winning ways and make a title defense in Saturday’s $200,000 William L. McKnight (G3) presented by Davidoff Cigars at Gulfstream Park.
The 1 ½-mile McKnight for 4-year-olds and up on the grass is part of a blockbuster 13-race program featuring nine stakes, seven graded, worth $5.4 million in purses headlined by the $3 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) presented by Baccarat, $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) presented by Qatar Racing and $500,000 TAA Pegasus Filly & Mare Turf (G3) presented by Pepsi.
Post time is 10:50 a.m., with the McKnight carded as Race 9 with a 3:01 p.m. post time. NBC will provide live national coverage from 4:30 to 6 p.m. All times are EST.
Abaan is a gelded 6-year-old son of 2013 champion 3-year-old male Will Take Charge that will be making just his second start since finishing fifth in the two-mile Belmont Gold Cup (G2) last June. It was his 11th start in 12 months that included a maiden victory in September 2021 at Saratoga and a triumph in the two-mile H. Allen Jerkens in December 2021 at Gulfstream that previewed his win in the McKnight.
“We gave him some time off after the race at Belmont on Belmont Stakes Day,” Eclipse founder and president Aron Wellman said. “He had a really hardy campaign at that point, very productive, won a couple stakes, so we decided to freshen up the second half of the year and come back guns blazing hopefully for this year’s campaign.”
Abaan returned in a 1 1/16-mile optional claiming allowance Dec. 4 on the Gulfstream turf, a race where he found himself on the lead after six furlongs but wound up fifth as the favorite behind Sky’s Not Falling, making a successful stretch out after winning the Maryland Million Turf Sprint.
“The timing of his comeback was a little tricky. We would have loved to have gotten a prep into him before the Jerkens, which was a race he won the year before going two miles, and the timing of it just didn’t mesh,” Wellman said. “So, we ran him in an allowance race going shorter than ideal for him, and he kind of got run off his feet a little bit.
“He was very prominent through wicked fast fractions at a distance that wasn’t his best, but he definitely got a lot out of that race and he’s trained exceptionally well since,” he added. “I think you’re going to see the Abaan on Saturday that we got accustomed to seeing in late 2021 and early 2022.”
Luis Saez, up for the past seven starts including the Jerkens and McKnight, gets the return call from Post 4 in an overflow field of 13. Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher also won the McKnight with Balto Star in 2003, Divine Oath in 2014 and Charming Kitten in 2015.
“It’s going to be a race that’s going to be largely contingent on pace and the draw [is] important for him as well, but we think he’s going to be a lot more comfortable at a mile and a half,” Wellman said. “He’s proven at the distance and at the level, so it would be feather in his cap for him and our partners to try to repeat here.”
The McKnight will be the 50th career start for Gary Barber, Wachtel Stable, R.A. Hill Stable and Reeves Thoroughbred Racing’s Channel Maker, a 9-year-old son of turf champion English Channel that owns nine lifetime wins – six coming at 1 ½ miles – and nearly $3.8 million in purse earnings.
All nine of Channel Maker’s wins have come in stakes – he broke his maiden in the 2016 Vandal at Woodbine – including Grade 1 victories in the 2018 and 2020 Turf Classic and 2019 Man o’ War at Belmont and 2020 Sword Dancer at Saratoga. He won two of six starts in 2022, the Elkhorn (G2) at Keeneland and Grand Couturier at Belmont and will be racing for the first time since finishing seventh in the Nov. 5 Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1).
“He’s doing real well and training well, and we thought, ‘Let’s just point for this race.’ This race will be a good one to get him back started for this year,” co-owner Dean Reeves said. “He’s a horse that never ages. When I go see him, he looks just as good as he did two years ago.”
Channel Maker has raced at nine different racetracks in the U.S. and Canada as well as in Dubai and Saudi Arabia in the winter of 2021. He won the 2017 Sovereign Award as Canada’s champion 3-year-old colt and the 2020 Eclipse Award as North America’s top turf male. He is 0-for-5 at Gulfstream, his best finishes fourths in the 1 3/8-mile Mac Diarmida (G2) in 2019 and 2020. Channel Maker did not race at Gulfstream in 2021 or 2022.
“I was looking the other day and he’s won almost four million dollars. The horse is just a warrior. He trains well. He’s one of those that, boy, if they were all like that you’d have a lot more people in the business. He’s really just a neat horse,” Reeves said.
“He is a throwback. He’s been to Dubai, he’s been to Saudi Arabia. He ran well in Saudi Arabia to finish second,” he added. “He’s an Eclipse Award winner, a multiple Grade 1 winner. What else can you ask one to do?”
Tyler Gaffalione is named to ride for the first time from Post 7.
Trainer Mike Maker is a four-time winner of the McKnight including three straight editions with Taghleeb (2017), Oscar Nominated (2018) and Zulu Alpha (2019) as well as Tide of the Sea (2021). Maker entered four horses in his bid for a fifth victory – Temple, Value Engineering, Red Knight and Wicked Fast.
Paradise Farms Corp. and David Staudacher’s Temple has been third or better in 12 of 15 lifetime starts on the Gulfstream turf, including a runner-up finish behind Abaan last year. Five of those races are wins led by the 2022 Mac Diarmida, his most recent victory. Maker claimed the 7-year-old gelding for $35,000 in July 2019, lost him for $80,000 two summers later but spent the same amount to get him back that fall.
Michael Hui and Phil Forte’s Value Engineering became a stakes winner in his debut for Maker with a 1 ¼-length victory in an off-the-turf edition of the Jerkens in December at Gulfstream. Trinity Farm’s Red Knight joined Maker’s string last summer and promptly won back-to-back stakes capped by the Kentucky Downs Turf Cup (G2). Winner of Gulfstream’s 2018 Jerkens, he was fourth as the favorite in the 2020 McKnight.
Jordan Wycoff’s Wicked Fast was second to Value Engineering in the Jerkens, his third start since being sent to Maker last fall. He was disqualified from first to second for interference in an optional claimer last February at Gulfstream and was fourth, beaten 2 ½ lengths, in the Oct. 22 Hill Prince (G2) at Aqueduct.
Time for Trouble, last out winner of the Nov. 12 Claiming Crown Iron Horse on dirt Nov. 12; Grade 3-placed Shawdyshawdyshawdy; Pao Alto, a group-stakes winner in Qatar and his native France that was seventh in the Dec. 31 Fort Lauderdale (G2) at Gulfstream; Irish-bred Agitare, winner of the two-mile John Forbes Memorial last fall at Far Hills; multiple stakes-placed Harlan Estate; and Reigning Spirit, beaten a neck when second 1 ½-mile Louisville (G3) last spring, complete the field.
Rhianon Farms, Inc.’s Barberini, third by two lengths in the Jerkens, is the lone also-eligible.