SARATOGA SPRINGS — Going out on your own as a trainer is always scary, but Jorge Abreu was as prepared as he could be. That shows in the success he’s had since doing so in late 2016.
Abreu, 44, has three wins, four seconds and one third from 18 starts, and $202,735 in earnings so far at this summer’s Saratoga Race Course meet, tying him for 12th place entering Thursday.
Before breaking out on his own, Abreu spent eight years as an assistant to Chad Brown and worked for Nick Zito six years before that. But his equine knowledge goes back to when he was a child in the Dominican Republic.
His father Reynaldo was a top jockey in the DR, but he brought his family to New York in 1984, when he worked as an exercise rider at Belmont Park. Jorge Abreu’s grandfather and uncle also trained in the Dominican Republic.
Abreu got his first job as an exercise rider for Murray Garren. From there, he worked for Billy Badget and John Terranova before progressing to Zito, for whom he worked with such horses as two-time Whitney winner Commentator, Bellamy Road and Sun King. In all, he worked as an exercise rider for 17 years, even freelancing a little for Todd Pletcher and getting on Left Bank and More Than Ready.
“I know a good one, a bad one and where they belong, pretty much,” Abreu said recently outside his barn on the Oklahoma annex. “Not always are you going to be right, but I have an idea.”
In his final summer with Brown, Abreu also had one horse in his own name, Woodville, who went 2 for 2 at Saratoga. He later left with Woodville and another filly that ended up not working out.
“It was a little scary at first because I have two horses and I’m leaving Chad’s barn, where we have 200 horses and they’re all Grade I horses or good horses,” Abreu said. “But I always felt confident I was going to be OK. Then I had a lot of support from all the people, the owners, they’ve been very good to me. I’ve been blessed that way.”
Abreu was ready to claim horses in order to build up his barn, but he didn’t have to do that too much because owner Michael Dubb gave him several horses.
Abreu’s big break came in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, where his Stellar Agent placed third at 71-1 odds.
“It might sound crazy, but I liked that filly a lot,” Abreu said. “When she broke her maiden here (Aug. 31), we went to the Miss Grillo next, and the owner told me we’re going to go to the Breeders’ Cup. And the horse was training so good up to the Breeders’ Cup, I told (co-owner) Steve Layman that morning, ‘I know we’re not going to win, but we’re going to be in the top two,’ and there we go, we almost got second, just a nose. I had that confidence. She never had a bad day training, breezed well, looked great. I knew I was walking over with a 71-1 shot, but I felt like I was 5-2.”
In December, Abreu got his first stakes win with Espresso Shot in the East View at Aqueduct.
For his brief career, Abreu has come in the money 157 times out of 361 starts, good for a 43 percent success rate, and won 15 percent of his races. He said Brown taught him a lot.
“Because we had the European horses, the American horses, the New York-breds, the good ones, the bad ones, so you kind of have an idea where you’re at,” he said. “My owners let me place the horses where they belong.”
Abreu trains 45 horses, a number he calls manageable.
“My goal is to have 60,” he said, “because you’re going to have some get hurt, so you need numbers.”
King Zachary won the 1 ¾-mile Birdstone Stakes in a track-record time of 2 minutes, 52.97 seconds, beating the previous mark of 2:55 set by Reigh Count on Sept. 1, 1928.
Fourth in last year’s Travers, King Zachary was last of seven in his initial try on turf here July 24 and was a supplemental nomination to the $100,000 race.
He won by 8 ½ lengths over Marconi.
Lady’s Island, a 5-year-old stakes-winning mare, won Thursday’s second race by 13 ¼ lengths as the 1-5 favorite. She finished the 6 furlongs in 1:08.54, just .62 off the track record.
Hall of Fame Friday
The 2019 National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame induction ceremonies will take place at 10:30 a.m. Friday at the Fasig-Tipton sales pavilion. The event is free and open to the public. Legendary track announcer Tom Durkin is the master of ceremonies.
The induction class is composed of jockey Craig Perret, horses Royal Delta, My Juliet and Waya, and Pillars of the Turf James “Ted” Bassett III, Christopher Chenery, Dick Duchossois, William Farish, John Hettinger, James Keene, Frank “Jimmy” Kilroe, Gladys Mils Phipps, Ogden Phipps, Helen Hay Whitney, Marylou Whitney and Warren Wright Sr.