Hall of Famer Bob Baffert continued to bolster his impressive legacy of stakes success at Belmont Park, racking up his second victory of the day when Abel Tasman showed her customary late-closing speed to win the 87th edition of the Grade 1, $700,000 Acorn for 3-year-old fillies on the main track on Saturday.
Abel Tasman, who previously came well off the pace to win the Grade 1 Starlet as a juvenile and rallied from 14th to win the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks last out at Churchill Downs on May 5, again stayed off the pacesetters, with Florida Fabulous leading through fractions of 23.32 seconds for a quarter-mile and the half in 46.79.
Near the five-sixteenths pole, Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith piloted Abel Tasman to the inside. The rail proved favorable as she surged in the stretch under a drive, outkicking Salty to win by a length, going one mile in 1:35.37 on Big Sandy.
"I was a little bit concerned in the first eighth of a mile because she was so off the bridle," said Smith, who was has won five career Acorns for five different trainers. "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."
Abel Tasman, for owners China Horse Club and Clearsky Farms, improved to 5-2-0 in eight career starts. In four career Grade 1 races, the Quality Road filly has three wins and a runner-up finish in the Santa Anita Oaks.
Off as the 2-1 favorite from post 3, Abel Tasman returned $6.30 on a $2 win wager and earned millionaire status with her career earnings improving to $1,332,060.
"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," said Baffert, who teamed with Smith to win the first of 10 stakes races on Belmont Stakes Day in the Easy Goer. "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."
Baffert, who two years ago captured the 12th Triple Crown with American Pharaoh in the Belmont Stakes, has four career Acorn wins, saddling Gabby's Golden Gal (2009), Contested (2012) and Midnight Lucky (2012). He said Abel Tasman could run next in Saratoga in the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama.
"I think a race like the Alabama is definitely in the works for her," Baffert said.
Salty, who ran fifth in the Kentucky Oaks, recorded her best finish in a Grade 1.
"It was a good effort," said jockey Joel Rosario. "She ran big. The winner had a lot of horse today, but I was happy with her effort."
Added Mark Casse, Salty's trainer: "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?"
Benner Island, Sweet Loretta, Union Strike, Nikki My Darling and Florida Fabulous completed the order of finish. Tequilita was scratched.
149th Belmont Stakes Race Replay
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