March 4, 2024

Abel Tasman goes for Grade 1 hat trick in CCA Oaks

Abel Tasman wins the Acorn Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park under jockey Mike Smith on Belmont Stakes Saturday, June 10, 2017 (c) Melanie Martines

Abel Tasman captured the Kentucky Oaks (G1) on May 5 and Acorn Stakes (G1) on June 10, and on Sunday trainer Bob Baffert will saddle the bay daughter of Quality Road in her third straight Grade 1 race at Saratoga.

The bay sophomore miss headlines a field of seven three-year-old fillies in the $300,000 Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) going 1 1/8 miles on the main track.

Abel Tasman’s only try at nine furlongs resulted in her 1 1/4-length victory in the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs under returning rider Mike Smith. She turned around a month later to add the one-mile Acorn to her resume at Belmont Park, earning a career- and field-best BRIS Speed rating of 103.

“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.”

Abel Tasman will be making her Saratoga debut in this spot and keeps the blinkers on.

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

Daddys Lil Darling will break just outside of Abel Tasman off a fourth-place run on the turf in the Belmont Oaks Invitational (G1). Prior to that, the Scat Daddy filly put in a furious rally to be second in the Kentucky Oaks for trainer Kenny McPeek, which came after a runner-up effort in the Ashland Stakes (G1) at Keeneland.

Daddys Lil Darling actually earned a 102 BRIS Speed rating for her latest run on turf but reunites with Julien Leparoux back on the dirt for this Spa contest.

Salty is the only other runner in this field with a triple-digit BRIS Speed rating, garnering a 102 for her second behind Abel Tasman in the Acorn last out. Despite a 4 1/4-length victory in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) one race before, the Mark Casse-trained filly was no match for her rivals in that Churchill affair.

“She’s doing great,” Casse said. “We’re excited. She’s doing better than ever, had a nice work over the track.

“It’s a rematch (between Salty and Abel Tasman). We definitely want another chance, and it looks like we’re going to get it. If Abel Tasman beats us, then I tip my cap to her and Bob. We talk a lot, and I have the utmost respect for Bob. I think the more respect you have for somebody the more you want to beat them.”

Joel Rosario has been aboard for all but one of Salty’s five career races and holds the reins on the Quality Road filly Sunday.

Like Daddys Lil Darling, Corporate Queen and Summer Luck will each be returning to the main track after forays on the turf in their last races.

Corporate Queen was last of six in the Wonder Again Stakes (G3) on June 8 at Belmont but posted a third-place run in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (G2) over Pimlico’s sloppy, sealed dirt a month earlier. A chance of thunderstorms on Sunday could add a little moisture to Saratoga’s track, which might help the Casse trainee’s chances in this spot. Irad Ortiz Jr. will be aboard Corporate Queen for the first time.

Summer Luck, Casse’s third starter in the CCA Oaks, finished a decent third in the grassy Regret Stakes (G3) at Churchill on June 17, which followed a well-beaten eighth in the Black-Eyed Susan. The Lookin at Lucky filly did rally to miss by only three parts of a length when third in the Davona Dale Stakes (G2) earlier in the season. Javier Castellano has the call.

“If it gets a little wet, it will help Corporate Queen, and I think Summer Luck will enjoy the mile and an eighth,” Casse said of his other two entrants. “There’s not a lot of speed in the race, but it looks like both Abel Tasman and Salty will go at it early. It might be a lot like this year’s Preakness (G1).”

Completing the CCA Oaks field are Grade 3-placed Elate, who scored a 5 1/2-length victory in the Light Hearted Stakes on June 15, and Grade 3 runner-up Berned, fifth by 2 1/2 lengths in the Delaware Oaks (G3) most recently.