A pair of titans in the distaff division, Abel Tasman and Elate, treated fans to a compelling edition of the $700,000 Personal Ensign (G1) on Saturday. And for the second consecutive year, Abel Tasman narrowly defeated her rival in a Grade 1 test at Saratoga and then survived a claim of foul.
“She’s just phenomenal,” trainer Bob Baffert said. “She’s just getting better with age and she’s brought us so much satisfaction. I could have easily run her at Del Mar, but I wanted to come to Saratoga. It doesn’t get any bigger than this, when you can win here in front of all these people on Travers Day…It’s a great rivalry.”
Named champion three-year-old filly last year following a runner-up finish in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1), Abel Tasman pocketed her sixth Grade 1 victory with the neck score. The daughter of Quality Road was exiting a 7 1/2-length romp in the Ogden Phipps (G1) on the Belmont Stakes undercard and captured the Kentucky Oaks (G1), Acorn (G1) and Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) last season, the latter being a head decision over Elate.
Abel Tasman raced in third early, advanced to take a short lead on the backstretch and opened about a two-length lead rounding the far turn. But Elate began to gain steam from off the pace and accelerated to even terms in midstretch.
Elate appeared to drift in slightly without making contact before Abel Tasman came out slightly into her rival. After the bumping, Abel Tasman reasserted control to win. There was no inquiry, but Jose Ortiz immediately filed an objection.
Bill Mott and Ortiz thought Abel Tasman cost Elate the race and a disqualification was warranted.
“You couldn’t miss it. (Jockey Mike Smith) clearly came out and knocked my filly off balance, knocked me off balance and beat me by a neck,” Ortiz said. “I think (Abel Tasman) should have come down 100 percent. I think (Elate) ran a great race. Both fillies did, but, c’mon. Last year he bumped me, this year he bumped me again and I should have won both of them.”
“Very disappointing, very disappointing,” Mott added.
Smith saw things differently.
“We didn’t knock each other outside,” Smith said. “We just came together nice and easy and then after that, we actually did the same thing again when (Elate) came down (into us). It didn’t cost any filly anything and the best filly won today.”
In the end, stewards ruled the alleged interference did not alter the outcome. The winner completed the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:47.19.
“She’s an incredible mare,” Baffert said. “She was a champion and she’s one of the best I’ve ever trained, and she just keeps showing it.”
Owned by China Horse Club International and Clearsky Farms, Abel Tasman was favored at 3-5 among six rivals. The runner-up left the starting gate as the 9-5 second choice.
Elate, a two-time Grade 1 winner last year, was making her second appearance of 2018 after a smart win in the July 14 Delaware Handicap (G2). The classy four-year-old filly will point toward another match-up against Abel Tasman in the November 3 Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Churchill Downs.
And considering the quality of the three-year-old filly division, the Distaff promises to be one of the most anticipated races this fall.
Promises Fulfilled kicked off the stakes action on Travers Day with a comfortable tally in the $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial (G1) for three-year-olds. Favored at 6-5, the Shackleford colt showed the way on a short lead and repulsed a challenge from eventual third-placer Engage in upper stretch to win going away in the end by 1 1/4 lengths. Luis Saez had the mount for Dale Romans, who finished 1-2 after 32-1 outsider Seven Trumpets got up late for second.
“That was very special,” Romans said. “Of course, most people in the game know that Allen (Jerkens) and I were very close. He was a good friend and mentor in life. Everybody knows what a great horse trainer he was, and he was a better person. It’s an honor to win this race and I think to get up for second we might have had a little divine intervention.”
Promises Fulfilled is campaigned by Robert Baron and Seven Trumpets races for West Point Thoroughbreds.
The winner reeled off splits in :22.66 and :44.34 en route to completing seven furlongs in 1:21.44.
“When they put the second quarter up, I wasn’t worried,” Romans said. “I thought that was slow for him. He’s been going :43 the last two races. He’s special.”
Winner of the Fountain of Youth (G2) and 15th in the Kentucky Derby (G1), Promises Fulfilled has thrived since cutting back in distance. He was exiting a convincing win in the July 28 Amsterdam (G3) at Saratoga and has established himself as a contender for the November 3 Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) at Churchill Downs.
“It was pretty nice,” Luis Saez said of the win. “He looked like he was very comfortable when he came to the stretch, he stretched the lead and took off.”