With the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” schedule underway for 2018, the time has come to begin sorting the contenders from the pretenders for this year’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships.
In this week’s Getting to Know feature, we focus on China Horse Club International’s and Clearsky Farms’ Abel Tasman, winner of the Grade 1 Personal Ensign Stakes on Aug. 25 to earn a starting spot in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff on the Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs.
For avid horse racing fans, this will come as no surprise: Abel Tasman is very good.
Right now, she looks like the top win candidate for the Longines Distaff with Elate reportedly targeting the Breeders’ Cup Classic. She’s clearly one of the top two contenders along with this year’s Longines Kentucky Oaks winner Monomoy Girl.
But for now, we’ll focus on the 2017 Kentucky Oaks winner, Abel Tasman, who has been terrific in two starts since running fourth in her 2018 debut in the Grade 1 La Troienne Stakes Presented by Twinspires.com on May 4 at Churchill Downs. Sent off as the overwhelming 3-5 favorite coming off a sixth-month respite following her runner-up finish in the 2017 Distaff, Abel Tasman encountered some trouble early but really just didn’t have it in the La Troienne.
That happens, especially with racehorses coming off long layoffs.
Abel Tasman was much better in her second start of the year, setting the pace and powering to a 7 ½-length runaway in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps Stakes on the June 9 Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets undercard.
That was only the second time in her career that Abel Tasman set the pace in a race – the previous was a win in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks in July 2017 – and she earned a new career-best 113 Equibase Speed Figure.
Employing the same pacesetting tactics in her next start, Abel Tasman held off familiar rival Elate in a thrilling and controversial stretch run to win the Grade 1 Personal Ensign by a neck.
Saratoga stewards took a long look at the stretch run in which there was quite a bit of contact between the top two finishers, arguably the best two older dirt females in training, but decided not to make any changes to the order of finish. Whether you agree with the outcome of that decision – quite a few people felt very strongly that Abel Tasman initiated the contact and should have been disqualified – there can be no denying that Abel Tasman ran a heck of a race against an elite runner in Elate. The 116 Equibase Speed Figure, another new top, supports the notion that Abel Tasman ran a monster race in the Personal Ensign.
With eight wins in 14 career starts and four runner-up finishes – the La Troienne was her only unplaced finish since running fifth in her career debut – Abel Tasman is one of the most consistent horses in training.
Abel Tasman also is quite versatile. She closed from more than 16 lengths back to win the Kentucky Oaks on a sloppy racetrack and rallied from off the pace to win the one-turn-mile Acorn Stakes at three, and she posted back-to-back, front-running Grade 1 wins in her two most recent races at four. She’s won at six different racetracks in three different states ranging from New York to Louisville to Southern California and she’s won a Grade 1 at ages two, three and four.
With Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith riding her for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, Abel Tasman is in terrific hands for the Breeders’ Cup. Smith is the all-time leading jockey by Breeders’ Cup wins with 26 and Baffert ranks second to fellow Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas with 14 wins and leads all trainers by Breeders’ Cup purse earnings with $27.6 million. Surprisingly, Baffert has never won the Distaff. Smith has five wins in the race.
The 1 1/8 miles of the Distaff appears to be ideal for Abel Tasman, who has four Grade 1 wins and a second in the 2017 Longines Distaff in five races at that distance.
If Elate competes in the Breeders’ Cup Classic rather than the Distaff, Abel Tasman right now is easily the best older female on target for the race. Monomoy Girl looks like her toughest challenger for the Distaff, which could come down to a showdown between the last two Kentucky Oaks winners.
Abel Tasman is the leading earner to date for her sire (father), Quality Road, and she has a similar profile as a runner with plenty of speed and the ability to carry it a long way. Like Abel Tasman, Quality Road was dazzling at 1 1/8 miles. Quality Road raced four times at that distance and earned three of his four Grade 1 wins and finished second by a head to eventual Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Blame in the 2010 Whitney Handicap.
Abel Tasman is out of the Deputy Minister mare Vargas Girl, a half-sister (same dam [mother], different sire) to Grade 1 winner Bevo and graded stakes winner and producer Moonlight Sonata. Abel Tasman’s half-sister Sky Girl won the Grade 3 Dogwood Stakes in 2013 at Churchill Downs.
Based on pedigree and past performances, as mentioned above, Abel Tasman should be perfectly suited for the 1 1/8-mile Distaff.