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Coaching Club American Oaks Preview: Abel Tasman Ready for Saratoga Glory

Chris Rahayel/NYRA

Sunday will feature the 101st running of the Grade 1, $300,000 Coaching Club American Oaks for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/8 miles on Saratoga Race Course’s hallowed main track. The winning filly will top a list of champions such as Shuvee, Ruffian, Sky Beauty, Songbird, and many others who left their mark over the century-long race that began back at Belmont Park in 1917.

China Horse Club and Clearsky Farm’s Abel Tasman is set to continue the winning form displayed in her late-closing kick to win the Grade 1 Acorn by a length under a heady ride by Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith on the Belmont Stakes Day undercard. It was her second victory since her six-wide late run in the slop to win the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks.

Never worse than second (with the exception of her debut) through five starts, the daughter of Quality Road won the Grade 1 Starlet and finished second in the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel Stakes before being transferred to Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s care in early March. The Coaching Club American will be her fourth start for Baffert.

“She shipped well, everything is good,” Baffert said. “She’s been to the track a couple of days now. She’s just got a really great mind. She’s a real sweet horse to be around, just a lot of class.”

After a slow start where she finished a distant second to runaway winner Paradise Woods in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks, Abel Tasman returned with blinkers in the Kentucky Oaks. She has yet to be beaten since the change.

“They made a big difference, and she’s been training really well since,” Baffert said. “We ran her once, and I didn’t want to change a thing. After the race, Mike said, ‘She really needs blinkers,’ and he confirmed it when he worked her after; he said she changed. She was pretty good before that.”

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Top Choice

#2 Abel Tasman – The nation’s number-one 3-year-old filly looks to add to her growing resume in the same race where Songbird proved her greatness last year. Able Tasman has already won the two biggest 3-year-old filly races in the country thus far, so if she can complete this triple, it would certainly be a great accomplishment. In the last year, when Baffert teams up with Smith, they are 11 for 13 in stakes efforts. That stat is hard to ignore and gives great confidence in picking her on top in this spot. It will likely turn into a match race between her and Salty, but after Abel Tasman’s last workout, she’ll be awfully sharp for this race.

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#7 Salty – She came onto the scene a little late as far as the Kentucky Oaks goes, but she was still a solid fifth in that race, despite the lack of seasoning. Last time out, she was a very good second in the Acorn behind Abel Tasman. This will be a two-horse race between these budding stars, as they both are reportedly looking great heading into the race. It’s hard to beat Bob Baffert right now, which is why Salty is second, but she’s plenty good enough to make Abel Tasman work for it.

Exotic Plays

#3 Daddys Lil Darling – This horse seems to be able to do it all. After running a solid second in the Kentucky Oaks, she went back to the turf for a race overseas, but had to be scratched after a thunderstorm during the post parade spooked her. After that disaster, she came all the way back to Belmont Park and ran a solid fourth on the turf in the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks. She goes back to the dirt here, but you have to wonder if all the races and travel may have her a little leg-weary heading into this race. She’s a good horse to use underneath, but can she keep putting up these big efforts?

Party Crashers

None – No upsets happening here. Abel Tasman comes into this one looking really sharp. The only one that can beat her is Salty, which would not be considered an upset.

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Throw Outs

#4 Corporate Queen – She tried turf last time out and didn’t fare all that well, so it’s good that she’s back on the dirt here. Still, she looks to be a cut below the best horses in this crop and could only manage a late-closing third in the Grade 2 Black Eyed Susan, which has not been a productive race.

#6 Berned – Finishing fifth last time out in the Grade 3 Delaware Oaks only two weeks ago, this will be a quick turnaround for her here. She’s a cut below the top horses in this one, too.

#1 Elate – At one time, this horse was thought to be the “next big thing” as a 2-year-old after crushing in her debut, but obviously, that hasn’t happened yet. In her next five races, she was sluggish and didn’t look anything like what we had seen from her on debut. She did win last time out, though, so perhaps she’s starting to come around.

#5 Summer Luck – After struggling on the dirt for most of her career, she changed to the turf last time out and put in a little bit better effort, finishing third in the Grade 3 Regret Stakes. Now, she’s back on the dirt for this one. Confusing…

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