The 2-1 favorite, Abel Tasman, last seen five weeks ago winning the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks on a sloppy Churchill Downs surface, proved victorious again with a one length score in the $750,000 Acorn Stakes (G1) over a fast strip at Belmont Park. The Bob Baffert trainee defeated an accomplished field of seven three-year-old fillies, featuring a trio of grade one winners and a pair from the grade two ranks.
After breaking from the gate, the early lead went to Florida Fabulous, with Nikki My Darling and Benner Island sitting just off the pace. Salty, the fifth-place finisher in the Kentucky Oaks and second choice here, was racing in fifth, while Abel Tasman, away tardily, was about nine lengths from the front end after a 23.32 quarter. By the time the field completed the half in 46.79, the Kentucky Oaks winner had cut her deficit to six lengths.
On the far turn, Benner Island took over the lead as Salty and Abel Tasman launched their respective moves. Salty, who found herself on the inside at Churchill Downs, where she encountered traffic woes, stayed clear of any trouble on the outside in the Acorn, while Abel Tasman, who went around the entire field on Oaks day, moved bravely through an opening on the inside here, which made all the difference and she exploded up the rail near the top of the lane.
Taking the lead from there, with jockey Mike Smith aboard, Abel Tasman repelled back the late bid of Salty to win in a final time of 1:35.37. It was four and a half lengths back to third place finisher, Benner Island.
Smith described the exciting trip, "I was a little bit concerned in the first eighth of a mile because she's so off the bridle. 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 finally got her going easy enough and I thought, 'OK, this is great.' I got out in the clear where she kind of likes it, but then they all saw me out there and everyone stayed out. 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."
Owned by China Horse Club and Clearsky Farms, Abel Tasman is the first filly since Birdtown (2003) to win the Acorn after taking the Oaks, and she is the fourth Acorn winner for Baffert.
The mutuels for the winner were $6.30, $3.40, and $2.60. The exacta with Salty paid $18.00 and the trifecta returned $62.