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LOUISVILLE, KY – China Horse Club and Clearsky Farms’ Abel Tasman rallied from far back and then held off a late bid from Daddys Lil Darling by 1 1/4 lengths to win the 143rd running of the Grade 1, $1,000,000 Longines Kentucky Oaks for 3-year-old fillies before a crowd of 105,100 on a cold and rainy Friday afternoon at Churchill Downs.
Trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Mike Smith, Abel Tasman covered the 1 1/8 miles on a sloppy track in 1:51.62.
It was the third victory in the Oaks for Baffert, who previously won with Silverbulletday in 1999 and Plum Pretty in 2011. For Smith, it was his second victory in the Oaks to go with Princess of Sylmar in 2013.
“If you surround yourself with good people, good things happen,” Smith said. “It’s just like your mom always told you. I surround myself with Bob Baffert and other great trainers and owners, and this is the outcome.”
Betting favorite Paradise Woods and Miss Sky Warrior blazed through fast early fractions of :22.79 and :46.24 while Abel Tasman raced at the rear of the field. The two leaders continued their duel into the far turn. Paradise Woods was the first one to crack, but by then, the rest of the field was closing in.
Smith had Abel Tasman in the clear outside of horses, swept to the lead at the 1/8 pole, and had more than enough to hold off Daddys Lil Darling and Lockdown.
“Incredible ride,” Baffert said. “We knew she was doing really well coming into this race. We got a nice, hot pace, and it worked out. They were going pretty fast, but I have a lot of respect for Paradise Woods, and she was getting a lot of pressure. About the 3/8 pole, (Smith) started moving and I thought we might have a shot.
It was another half-length back to Vexatious, who was followed in order by Salty, Sailor’s Valentine, Tequilita, Miss Sky Warrior, Ever So Clever, Mopotism, Paradise Woods, Jordan’s Henny, Wicked Lick, and Farrell.
The victory was worth $564,200 and increased Abel Tasman’s earnings to $912,060 with a record of 7-4-2-0. Abel Tasman is a Kentucky-bred daughter of Quality Road out of the Deputy Minister mare Vargas Girl. It was her second Grade 1 victory to go with a triumph in the Starlet last December at Los Alamitos.
“Immediately after her second-place finish in the Santa Anita Oaks, we realized she probably needed a slight blinker,” Smith said. “She broke OK that day but was not 100% focused. She’d run for a 1/16 of a mile and then lose focus. The blinkers kept her from doing that today. I hit the front a little sooner than I wanted and I was afraid she’d pull herself up, but she stayed focused and galloped out even better.”
Abel Tasman returned $20.40, $9.20, and $6.40. Daddys Lil Darling brought back $11 and $6.60, while Lockdown paid $18.40.
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Jockey Julien Leparoux, Daddys Lil Darling – “I wanted a wait a little bit to get inside. She ran a big race.”
Jockey Jose Ortiz, Lockdown – “I had a good position going into the first turn. I was just looking for a way to get to the rail since it’s been so good today. She gave me a good run.”
Jockey Kent Desormeaux, Vexatious – “I got excited at the 3/8 pole. She really took off when I peeled her out from behind horses. She enjoyed the going, she gave it her best. I am hoping as she matures, she will get stronger and faster.”
Jockey Joel Rosario, Salty – “She liked the track and ran well. We took a chance to go along the inside and got stopped a little a couple of times. She was running in the end. It was just a different track today. The winner was much the best. If I didn’t get stopped on the turn and turning for home, we could have run better but that’s how it goes sometimes.”
Jockey Corey Lanerie, Sailor’s Valentine – “It was a perfect trip, sitting right behind the speed. She was moving very well over this track, even though it was in the slop. I got excited turning for home, but she just got tired late.”
Jockey Luis Saez, Tequilita – “My filly was in a great spot. I ask for her run and she responded, but the other fillies ran faster.”
Jockey Paco Lopez, Miss Sky Warrior – “We were right there second, but when I asked my filly, she didn’t like the mud.”
Jockey Luis Contreras, Ever So Clever – “Perfect trip, no excuse. She just didn’t kick like last time.”
Jockey Mario Gutierrez, Mopotism – “She broke OK but I didn’t think she liked the track very much.”
Jockey Flavien Prat, Paradise Woods – “She didn’t break super sharp. She just wasn’t herself today. She never ran on a sloppy track before and she didn’t run good today, so maybe that had something to do with it.”
Joe Rocco Jr., rider of Jordan’s Henny (12th) – “We really had a good trip. We sat behind the speed and she was still on the bit going into the second turn. I really got excited going for home because I thought we had a chance but she just flattened out.”
Jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr., Wicked Lick – “The way she warmed up, I thought she would run a good race. We took a lot of dirt and that discouraged her a bit. It just wasn’t her day.”
Jockey Channing Hill, Farrell – “It was disappointing. I didn’t think it (the sloppy conditions) would bother her, but obviously, it did. You never know with this game, but that’s why you have to run them. She did everything else good but like the track.”
Trainer Bob Baffert, Abel Tasman – “It’s just exciting to win the Kentucky Oaks. We’d like to have a horse in the Derby, but I’m so happy for the China Horse Club. They trusted me with the filly. And ‘Big Money’ Mike (Smith), what can you say?
“She’s a beautiful filly to train. She shipped beautifully and we knew we had a chance.”
Trainer Kenny McPeek, Daddys Lil Darling – “I like winning races, but she ran fantastic.”
Trainer Bill Mott, Lockdown – “I’m really pleased. We came in a bit of an underdog and she really ran well. She was maybe eight lengths back. I lost her a bit going into the first turn, you know, we’ve got pink colors, and there was so much pink, I was getting distracted.”
Trainer Neil Drysdale, Vexatious – “I think it was a bit of a shock to her, running in the slop. She has a big, long stride. I’m very, very pleased. We all are. She’s still developing and keeps improving with each start. She still has some growing to do. I’ll talk it over with Calumet and we’ll decide on what’s next for her.”
Trainer Mark Casse, Salty – “I’d like to see the race again, but from what I saw, she ran pretty well. She normally breaks slowly, but today, she broke well, and we had to lose ground. I wanted the trip that the winner had, but we didn’t get that today. Overall, though, I know she ran well.”
Trainer Eddie Kenneally, Sailor’s Valentine – “I’m happy with the way she ran. (Jockey) Corey (Lanerie) said she cruised around there and the surface was not an issue. I thought, watching her, that she was traveling very nicely and she had a big shot at the top of the stretch. In the end, we felt like she probably doesn’t want to go 1 1/8 miles. She emptied out the last 1/16th and just could not go with those horses the last part. We’ll probably point for shorter races going forward. (The Acorn on June 10 at Belmont Park) is a possibility.”
Trainer Michael Matz, Tequilita – “Luis (Saez) said she kept getting pushed out, that there was a horse inside her that came out. He said she was happy and she finished strong.”
Trainer Kelly Breen, Miss Sky Warrior – “First reaction was she lost her right front shoe. I am not blaming anything, but it’s not easy to win the Kentucky Oaks with three shoes. Our game plan was to stick it to her and try and make the lead. :22 and change (in the first 1/4 mile) is fast. We’ll regroup.”
Trainer Steve Asmussen, Ever So Clever – “A lot of things went wrong. We will try to get them tomorrow.”
Trainer Doug O’Neill, Mopotism – “Mario (Gutierrez) said she wasn’t handling the track at all; she was slipping and sliding. We had high hopes coming in but it didn’t happen today. Thankfully, it looks like she came out of it OK and will live to fight another day.”
Trainer Richard Mandella, Paradise Woods – “What are you going to do? That big race at Santa Anita (the Santa Anita Oaks) might have taken a little too much out of her.”
Trainer Mike Tomlinson, Jordan’s Henny – “She ran her race for about 1 mile. She’s probably a better miler. She has had a hard campaign this winter and probably needs a break, so we’ll give her one. We’re proud of her. She always tries and was right there for a mile or a little more.”
Trainer Brendan Walsh, Wicked Lick – “She never got a blow in. She was too far back going into the first turn and then we were dead.”
Trainer Wayne Catalano, Farrell – “I had a perfect setup. It was a speed-favoring track. I know from being a jock, on a track like that, I knew how the front two were going to ride, so I was laying where I wanted. It was up to her at that point, and Channing (Hill) said she couldn’t handle the track at all. I knew it was going to be tough because of the track. We’ll go back to the barn and go over her, scope her, and have Dr. Bramlage go over her and make sure she’s OK.”
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