01/05/2018 12:20PM

2017 Eclipse Awards: Abel Tasman

Michael Amoruso
Abel Tasman

It was a rainy, chilly day in Louisville, Ky., but the sun shone bright for Abel Tasman. The filly splashed home to her signature Kentucky Oaks victory on a sloppy track to score the first of three Grade 1 wins on the year, earning a spot as an Eclipse Award finalist in the 3-year-old filly division.

“We ruined our shoes and our sport coats, but it was well worth it,” trainer Bob Baffert said.

As a juvenile under the care of trainer Simon Callaghan, Abel Tasman won three of her four starts, including the Grade 1 Starlet Stakes at Los Alamitos. The campaign prompted the China Horse Club, a fast-rising ownership group with major investments in a number of countries, to purchase a half-interest in the Quality Road filly from breeder Clearsky Farm. Abel Tasman finished second in her 2017 debut in the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel Stakes behind Unique Bella. The following week, she was transferred from Callaghan to Baffert, the result of an apparent mix-up in silks worn in the Santa Ysabel.

Abel Tasman made her first start for Baffert in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks, finishing a distant second behind Paradise Woods. Jockey Mike Smith climbed off her for the first time, and he and Baffert immediately discussed adding small blinkers that would sharpen the filly’s focus. The result was a 1 1/4-length score in the Kentucky Oaks.

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“Immediately after [the Santa Anita Oaks], we both realized she probably needed a slight blinker,” Smith recalled. “She broke okay that day, but was not a 100 percent focused. She’d run for a sixteenth of a mile and then lose focus. The blinkers kept her from doing that. 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.”

Five weeks later, Abel Tasman cut back to one turn and scored a handy victory in the Grade 1 Acorn Stakes on the Belmont Stakes undercard. She added a third Grade 1 victory in 2017 the following month, edging Elate by a head in the Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga. Abel Tasman rounded out the summer campaign by finishing second in the Grade 1 Cotillion Stakes at Parx Racing in Pennsylvania.

Abel Tasman was second by a half-length to Forever Unbridled in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Del Mar. There was no shame in defeat, as Forever Unbridled was completing an unbeaten season that also included a victory over the brilliant champion Songbird. Abel Tasman’s connections are looking forward to having her back in action in 2018 – for more reasons than one.

“She is so sweet,” Baffert said. “She is the kindest horse in the barn.”