Under a masterful ride from Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, Abel Tasman slid through on the rail rounding the turn of Saturday’s $687,000 Acorn Stakes (G1) and pulled off the one-length victory as the 2-1 favorite.
The late-running Bob Baffert trainee was in no hurry at the start, breaking in last and content to run in the rear of the field as Florida Fabulous led the way up front through splits of :23.32 and :46.79. Nikki My Darling tracked just outside of the pacesetter, with Benner Island running in the three path to her outside.
Salty, who raced five wide down the backstretch in the back of the main part of the field, circled her rivals on the turn. Abel Tasman angled to the rail and slipped up the inside on the bend to take command upon hitting the stretch.
Those two met up in the lane, but Salty could not collar Abel Tasman and finished a length back in second. Abel Tasman completed the one-mile contest over the fast main track in 1:35.37 to return $6.30 for the win.
It was another 4 1/2 lengths behind Salty to Benner Island, who was followed under the wire by Sweet Loretta. The rest of the field was strung out, with Union Strike finishing fifth another 11 lengths back, Nikky My Darling filling the sixth spot 14 3/4 lengths farther behind and Florida Fabulous bringing up the rear.
Abel Tasman entered the Acorn off a rallying win in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) at Churchill Downs on May 5. The bay daughter of Quality Road began her career with Simon Callaghan, breaking her maiden in her second outing, taking an allowance and wrapping up a three-race win streak in the Starlet Stakes (G1) to conclude her juvenile campaign.
Abel Tasman made her sophomore debut a runner-up effort in the Santa Ysabel Stakes (G3) and subsequently was transferred to Baffert, for whom she also ran second in the Santa Anita Oaks (G1) two back. Campaigned by China Horse Club International Ltd. and breeder Clearsky Farms, Abel Tasman improved her record to read 8-5-2-0, $1,287,060, with the Acorn victory.
Bred in Kentucky, Abel Tasman is out of the Deputy Minister mare Vargas Girl and counts as a half-sister Grade 3 winner Sky Girl. Vargas Girl is herself a half-sibling to Grade 1 winner Bevo and Grade 3 heroine Moonlight Sonata, who foaled Grade 2 victors Wilburn and Beethoven.
Bob Baffert, trainer Abel Tasman, winner
“With this filly here, she’s just getting really good and she showed that the (Kentucky) Oaks was not a fluke. 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.
“I think a race like the Alabama ([G1] at Saratoga on August 19) is definitely in the works for her.”
Mike Smith, jockey Abel Tasman, winner
“I was a little bit concerned in the first eighth of a mile because she was so off the bridle. 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 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.”
Mark Casse, trainer Salty, second
“I was looking for the winner and then she was gone, and then she was there. 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?”
Joel Rosario, jockey Salty, second
“It was a good effort. She ran big. The winner had a lot of horse today, but I was happy with her effort.”