FLASHBACK: Bigman In Town on his way to winning the 1,800-metre Caribbean Champion Stakes with Nobel Abrego aboard in November 2015 at Santa Rosa Park, Arima.

Photo: courtesy ROBERT SAUNDERS

THERE was no fairy tale ending for a horse giant racing when the Arima Race Club’s (ARC) 2020 Season concluded on Boxing Day (December 26) at Santa Rosa Park, Arima.

With two overwhelming favourites among his four mounts on the eight-race holiday card, Nobel Abrego was expected to hang up his boots for good with a bang.

But the Panamanian could only finish fourth with Mighty Vegas (3/5) in the third event, and third with Feel The Heat (6/5) two races later, and he then failed to find the tins in the final two races on the card.

Nevertheless, Abrego, who is credited with over 1,200 victories but he has ridden many more winners all over the world during his brilliant career, is definitely one of the best to ride here since he first came in the late 1990s.

In fact, former ARC president Baskaran Bassawh and owner/trainer Davis Ojar were on a long list of owners and trainers who considered him “20 pounds better that any other rider” a few years ago.

Heavier than most other riders, Abrego was only able to “catch” top-weight (between 56 and 57 kilos) during his time here, but many trainers did not think twice to book him, despite the fact that their charges were forced to take significant overweight.

Even on his final day, the 55-year-old took 2.5 kilos overweight on long shot Memories, who went on to place seventh in the Boxing Day feature attraction, the Gold Cup.

Abrego finished fifth with his final mount with Indy Anna Baby for Ojar, whose Chanticleer had been the first “big horse” he was associated with.

The former first-call jockey for champion trainer John O’Brien won the Sian’s Gold Sprint with the locally-bred great in 1998 and again in the following year when they also combined to take the Arima Race Club Cup and the Caribbean Champion Stakes.

Abrego, who rarely accepted more than three mounts on a “normal” race day, concentrated on the big days and was triumphant in more than 40 classic races, including over 25 against the top-class horses.

He won the Trinidad Derby Stakes five times, just once less than the most successful riders in the premier event on the calendar, Challenor Jones and Ricky Jadoo, who was triumphant with Cape Canaveral in 2018 and Juice Man the following year to leapfrog him.

Abrego was also victorious five times in the Champion Stakes, including a hat-trick with Bruceontheloose (2010-12) as well as the St James Stakes – the season’s leading event for West Indian-bred juvenile colts and geldings – and the Champagne Stakes.

The latter is the leading turf event on the calendar and he booted home four straight winners, beating his streak of three straight in both the Champion Stakes and Sian’s Gold Sprint.

Chanticleer, Adawar and Jamaican-breds Bruceontheloose and Bigman In Town were Abrego’s most successful horses in the classics.

First taste of ‘Champagne’

He won the President’s Cup and Gold Cup with Adawar in 2002, the season after they had combined for his first taste of “Champagne”.

In addition to his “Champion” hat-trick aboard Bruceontheloose, Abrego rode the four-time Horse of the Year to victory in the President’s Cup in 2011 and in the Stewards Cup the following year.

Bigman in Town completed a Champion Stakes hat-trick in 2015 with him in the saddle, after they had taken the Diamond Stakes for the second straight year. The three-time Horse of the Year also won the first of his back-to-back President’s Cup titles with Abrego up.

His first major classic winner was Geronimo in the 1997 Guineas – first leg of the Triple Crown – and he guided two-time Horse of the Year Thisonesforron to their second straight Champagne Stakes triumph 19 years later for his last. After falling in love with Trinidad and spending most of his time here since his first visit about 25 years ago, Abrego is expected to return home to Panama shortly.

He was definitely one of the most skilful riders to have graced these shores and it will be very difficult to erase him from the memory.

Here is the list of Nobel Abrego’s winners in the major classic races at Santa Rosa Park:

Arima Race Club Cup – Chanticleer (1999); Montejo (2012); Bigman In Town (’15)

Champagne Stakes – Adawar (2001), Nominee (2013), Headline Hews (2014), Thisonesforron (2015 & 2016)

Diamond Stakes – Bigman In Town (2014 & 2015)

Gold Cup – Adawar (2002)

President’s Cup – Adawar (2002), Bruceontheloose (2011), Gabby’s Gold (2013), Bigman In Town (2014)

Sian’s Gold Sprint –Trouble Rips It (1997), Chanticleer (1998 & 1999); Another Decision (2002)

Stewards Cup – Cash Wager (2002), Bruceontheloose (2012), Crime Of Passion (2014)

Guineas – Geronimo (1997), Millenium Reign (2002)

Midsummer Classic – Geronimo (1997), El Vagabundo (1999)

Trinidad Derby Stakes – Groomsman (1999), Millenium Reign (2002), Border Dispute (2005), Sweet Revenge (2007), War Maker (2015)

Caribbean Champion Stakes – Chanticleer (1999); Bruceontheloose (2010, 2011 2012); Bigman In Town (2015)

St Ann’s Stakes – Tempest (1997)

St James Stakes – Temporama (1997), Bound To Dance (1999), Extravagance (2001), Prince Zeshan (2012), War Maker (2014).


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