Pundits weren’t convinced that Clearsky Farm and China Horse Club’s Kentucky Oaks winner Abel Tasman was versatile enough to be competitive at a mile, due to her late-running style, but Bob Baffert proved them wrong on Saturday. In the G1 Acorn Stakes at Belmont Park, the sophomore daughter of Quality Road was nearly 12 lengths off the speed in the one-turn contest, but jockey Mike Smith skimmed the rail on the far turn to take the lead heading for home. Abel Tasman was determined late to win by three-quarters of a length over Salty, recording a final time of 1:35.37 over the fast main track.
“With this filly here, she’s just getting really good and she showed that the [Kentucky] Oaks was not a fluke,” Baffert said. “She’s that good a horse. I didn’t like the post. My other horses drew great except for her. It was pretty exciting. The quality she has, I just see it in the mornings. She’s just getting better and better. I’m pretty happy for her.”
Union Strike bobbled badly at the start, leaving Florida Fabulous alone on the front end early. Abel Tasman was also a bit slow leaving the starting gate, and was last of all under the ever-patient Smith through the first half of the race. Florida Fabulous clocked fractions of :23.23 and :46.79 while a length in front of Nikki My Darling. Benner Island maintained a good position in third, three-wide, and Sweet Loretta was up close in fourth at the rail.
Favored Abel Tasman moved up to catch the field approaching the far turn, moving around Union Strike on the outside, but Smith saw a chance to make it up the inside rail and waited a beat to see if the hole would open. Second-choice Salty, meanwhile, took the outside route and was also moving quickly. Benner Island briefly took over from Florida Fabulous, but a huge burst of speed from Abel Tasman up the rail had the Oaks winner in front turning for home. Salty was just a length behind in second in the center of the track, and Benner Island was between the two working hard to keep up.
“I was a little bit concerned in the first eighth of a mile because she’s so off the bridle,” Smith admitted. “But the scary thing about her is if you work too hard to get her on it, then it’s from almost one extreme to the next. I was trying not to do that because of the big turns. I finally got her going easy enough and I thought, ‘OK, this is great.’ I got out in the clear where she kind of likes it, but then they all saw me out there and everyone stayed out. I stayed behind and I tipped out outside of Joel [Rosario, aboard Salty] so he could really see me, and when he looked back I ducked to the inside. Otherwise, I would have lost too much ground out there. It worked. If it didn’t work I’d have been an idiot.”
Abel Tasman did just enough to stay in front at the wire, not allowing Salty any closer than three-quarters of a length as she crossed under the wire victorious. Salty had to settle for second, and Benner Island was relegated to third. Sweet Loretta maintained fourth.
“I was looking for the winner and then she was gone, and then she was there,” said Mark Casse, trainer of runner-up Salty. “I never saw what happened. I thought we had the horses in front, which was good. I was wanting her to have a target. Then it all went ‘boom.’ It was too big a target. She ran her butt off. What are you going to do?”
Bred in Kentucky by Clearsky Farm, Abel Tasman did not reach her reserve in the Keeneland September Yearling sale when the bidding stopped at $ 65,000. She later rewarded Clearsky’s confidence with a win in the G1 Starlet as a juvenile, then added the Kentucky Oaks to her resume in her sophomore season. Overall, Abel Tasman has won five of her eight starts with two seconds, and earned over $ 1.3 million.
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