It came down to the wire and a stewards’ inquiry before Kentucky Oaks (G1) queen Abel Tasman was declared winner of the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) at Saratoga on Sunday.
The Quality Road filly was seeking her third straight Grade 1 score in the CCA Oaks, beginning the hat trick in the Kentucky Oaks on May 5 at Churchill Downs. She followed up a month later in the Acorn Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park, and was sent off the 4-5 favorite in the CCA Oaks under jockey Mike Smith.
The duo exited the stalls in good order, unlike Salty, who wasn’t settled before the gate opened and reared at the break. Meanwhile, 28-1 longshot Summer Luck moved up to take command of the nine-furlong contest through an opening quarter in :23.81.
The pace prompted Smith to angle Abel Tasman out five wide and make an early run at the front. The duo easily took command and proceeded to lead through the remaining splits of :48.83, 1:13.92 and 1:39.14.
In the stretch, Elate put in her move up the rail under jockey Jose Ortiz. Smith saw the filly closing rapidly and maneuvered Abel Tasman to the inside, keeping Elate in tight. The pair made contact a couple times in the stretch but Abel Tasman managed to keep her head in front on the wire to secure the victory in a final time of 1:51.74 over the fast main track.
It wasn’t long before race caller Larry Collmus announced both a stewards’ inquiry and jockey objection into the stretch run. After a few tense moments, the stewards declared no change and Abel Tasman headed into the winner’s circle.
Trained by Bob Baffert, the bay miss paid $3.60 for the win. Elate had 3 1/4 lengths to spare on Salty, who overcame her poor start and rallied for third, seven lengths ahead of Berned. Next under the wire was Daddys Lil Darling, second to Abel Tasman in the Kentucky Oaks and fourth when trying the turf in the Belmont Oaks Invitational (G1) in her last two. Summer Luck and Corporate Queen completed the order of finish.
Abel Tasman is now 9-6-2-0, $1,467,060, in her career, which actually began with trainer Simon Callaghan last August 20 at Del Mar. She ran fifth that day but returned in September to break her maiden by 1 1/4 lengths at Santa Anita Park. A pair of wins in an allowance and the Starlet Stakes (G1) followed before the filly tasted defeat again, then time when second in the Santa Ysabel Stakes (G3) while making her sophomore bow on March 4 at Santa Anita.
Not long after that, Abel Tasman’s owners – China Horse Club International Ltd. and breeder Clearsky Farms – transferred her to Baffert, for whom she ran second in the Santa Anita Oaks (G1) first out. The Kentucky Oaks followed that start, and the bay miss is now capable of completing the Triple Tiara, which is comprised of the Acorn, CCA Oaks and Alabama Stakes (G1). That latter contest takes place August 19 going 1 1/4 miles at Saratoga.
Abel Tasman is out of the Deputy Minister mare Vargas Girl, making the Kentucky-bred a half-sister to Grade 3 heroine Sky Girl.
COACHING CLUB AMERICAN OAKS QUOTES
Bob Baffert, trainer Abel Tasman, winner
"Well, I sort of called an audible. I wasn't going to go up there. But she worked so well that I did. Mike Smith gave her a wonderful ride. What she has accomplished...I flew her to Kentucky, and I flew her back, flew her to New York (for the Acorn [G1]) and flew her back…she does that and it takes an exceptional filly to do that…I don't know if people realize what she has done…she is really outstanding.
"You know, I have seen him do that before when they are walking up front. He knew he was on the best horse. That is why he did that. It was a brilliant move, it takes years of experience and he has the accomplishments and he knew he was on a good filly, you can't do that with any horse.
"We put blinkers on her (and) when he made the lead, he wanted to make sure she saw another horse. It makes them run. Not to intimidate the other horse, but it makes them keep digging in…don't want them to lose momentum, he made it tight, but I was never worried about being disqualified because the other kid was still riding."
Is the $600,000 Alabama Stakes (G1) on August 19 at Saratoga Abel Tasman’s next start?
"It could be. I am going to bring her home…we will play it by ear…we see how she trains."
Jimmy Barnes, assistant trainer Abel Tasman, winner
"Wow, what a race. What a strangely run race, really. There was so much happening; it had its highs and lows, it was dramatic. Mike (Smith) had to make the move he thought was the right move. They were walking (up front) and he knew how the track was playing. They're not really coming from off the pace and they were crawling. So he went ahead and let her run. Then down the stretch, maybe she needed to get into a fight again, so he just let her come on over to him, but he never really hit her or bump her at all. Just race riding, that's what it looked like to me.
"Abel is a phenomenal filly. It's her third Grade 1 in a row. We're blessed to have her. She's come through each and every time. She's had to travel three times now and that says a lot for her. To pick up from your home track, go to Churchill, go to Belmont with the big sandy track and then come here on opening weekend, it's very exciting for us."
Mike Smith, jockey Abel Tasman, winner
"It's just good, old fashioned race-riding. By no means did I put her (Elate) in any harm. My filly really waits. Once she was in there, she was engaged. I made sure that I didn't touch him (jockey Jose Ortiz). I made it tight, but there's no rules that say you can't make it tight. They make it tight on me all the time and I'm too old for that. It's a questionable move that I would have questioned myself if I got beat. But I didn't, so I liked it.
"She scrambled early and got up. There was no pace in the race. Everyone threw the anchor out and went to slow down. She got into such a pretty stride and felt so good, I didn't want to get in the way of it. If I did, I felt like I'd hurt her more than help her. She's capable of that, and once she gets in that big, beautiful stride, that's where you want her. It was there. I took it. If I had got beat, it would have been horrible.
"It's funny how things will turn around. We went from yesterday being a total shock (Arrogate’s loss in the San Diego [G2]) – we don't know, we're just going to draw a line through it – but to come back…that's what is great about this sport. It's an emotional rollercoaster. It felt like it was a 15-hour flight but man, it's going to be sweet going home."
Bill Mott, trainer Elate, second
"It was a tough call. A tough decision to make. I wouldn't say it's a bad call, they did the right thing by Steward's inquiry and I think he did the right thing by claiming foul. I think they needed to look at it. He said there was just enough contact maybe to get us beat. You get beat by that much and he comes from the four-path on top of us and it was tight. He was race riding and they let it stand. If they would have let it gone the other way I could understand it.
"I think she ran a super race. That's the filly I thought we had when we started out and it's just taken her a while to progress. I thought when we started up the spring she was more of an Alabama-type filly then a Kentucky Oaks (G1) filly and I said that in January and February. It looks like she's coming around at the right time. After this performance we certainly wouldn't be afraid of taking her on again at a mile and a quarter in the (Alabama). If our filly's good we'll be rearing to go."