She may have disappointed in her first start of 2018, but Abel Tasman found her rhythm to score a dominating 7 1/2-length win in Saturday's Grade 1 Ogden Phipps Stakes at Belmont Park. The 4-year-old daughter of Quality Road, winner of last year's Kentucky Oaks, was sent off at even money to give Mike Smith and Bob Baffert their first wins on the Belmont Stakes undercard. China Horse Club and Clearsky Farms' Abel Tasman completed 1 1/16 miles over Belmont's fast main track in 1:40.36, finishing in front of Ivy Bell, Unbridled Mo and Pacific Wind.
“I am so proud of her,” Baffert said. “She's one of my favorite all-time horses. What she did in the Oaks last year, she brought us from being nowhere to somewhere. It was so exciting to win the Oaks, and with the way she did it.”
The Odgen Phipps is a part of the Breeders' Cup Challenge “Win and You're In Series,” so Abel Tasman earned an expenses-paid berth to the Breeders' Cup Distaff with her victory. She was second to Forever Unbridled in that race last fall.
Abel Tasman was a bit slow out of the gate, but remained with the well-bunched field as the fillies and mares began their journey down the backstretch. Ivy Bell and Unchained Melody were initially the leaders, but after a first quarter in :23.58, Abel Tasman began making an early move on the far outside. Going four-wide, Smith allowed his filly to take command through a half in :46.36, leading by a length over Pacific Wind and Ivy Bell.
“You know her, she does that every time,” said Smith. “She gets away slow and then she makes that big middle move. Sometimes it's better to let her do it, if they're going slow. If they're going fast and she does it, that's when I've gotten myself in trouble and that's happened before. But they were going easy enough that it was ok. She was happy, very comfortable, very happy. I was happy.”
Around the far turn, Pacific Wind was the first to challenge Abel Tasman. Ivy Bell and Javier Castellano, meanwhile, saved all the ground on the inside fence and had the best position to make a run at the top of the stretch. Abel Tasman was never threatened down the lane, drawing away to win by 7 1/2 lengths, but Ivy Bell was a clear second over her stablemate Unbridled Mo. Pacific Wind finished fourth.
Bred in Kentucky by part-owner Clearsky Farms, Abel Tasman's first win came in her second start, after which she immediately earned two more wins including the G1 Starlet Stakes. In the first two starts of her sophomore season, the filly finished second, but she came back to win the Kentucky Oaks and two more G1 races in 2017. Abel Tasman was fourth in the La Troienne to start this season, but her overall record stands at seven wins and four seconds from 13 starts, with earnings of $2.4 million.
“Her race at Churchill Downs was a disappointment,” admitted Baffert. “She didn't run well. You could tell today the light got turned on. We got hit back to California (after her last race) and she trained aggressively again. She couldn't have looked any better coming in to this race. She had been working with Hoppertunity, and hopefully he'll run good today [in the Grade 1 Brooklyn].”
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