SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y.–It was deja vu all over again for champion Abel Tasman (Quality Road) and ‘TDN Rising Star’ Elate (Medaglia d’Oro) in the GI Personal Ensign S. at Saratoga Saturday. Last year, the pair battled down the Saratoga stretch in a thrilling renewal of the GI CCA Oaks with Abel Tasman besting Elate by a head and surviving an objection by Elate’s jockey Jose Ortiz. The Personal Ensign turned into a replay of the two talented fillies last meeting, objection and all, with the China Horse Club and Clearsky Farm’s Abel Tasman coming out on top yet again.
The filly and mare feature was billed as a match race between the best in the west and the best in the east and Abel Tasman, favored at 3-5, and Elate, 9-5 second-choice, put on the show everyone expected. Away well from her rail draw, Abel Tasman was rated in mid-pack under Mike Smith, saving ground in fourth as 55-1 longshot She Takes Heart (Wilburn) called the shots through a :23.31 opening quarter and Elate bided her time in second last. Abel Tasman made an early move to challenge the leader as they hit the half in :46.62, quickly dismissing the pacesetter and cruising clear, putting up three-quarters in 1:10.26.
Elate progressed up the rail on the backstretch run to sit second turning for home, tipped out to take on Abel Tasman at the top of the stretch and the stage was set. Abel Tasman kept her arch rival at bay until mid-stretch when Elate determinedly muscled her way closer to look the Eclipse winner in the eye. The pair battled stride for stride in the final sixteenth with Abel Tasman summoning upon all her class to edge clear of the equally classy Elate at the wire for a neck success. Ortiz lodged an objection against the winner for some bumping between the two fillies in the stretch, but the stewards ruled that it did not interfere with Elate’s momentum and the result stood.
“She’s just phenomenal,” said trainer Bob Baffert, who was winning his 12th Grade I at the Spa. “She’s just getting better with age and she’s brought us so much satisfaction. I didn’t see that [contact] during the race. I thought [Elate] was going to get by us there, but I could tell by the way Mike [Smith] was riding he wasn’t really worried. Abel, as soon as she saw her Mike said she just took off. She’s an incredible mare. She was champion and she’s one of the best I’ve ever trained, and she just keeps showing it.”
Of the objection, Baffert said, “I didn’t even know there would be an objection because I really didn’t see it, and then I heard the crowd. I wasn’t too worried because it wasn’t like it was a nose or something pretty close. You don’t like to see objections. I told Mike when he came back, ‘Mike, you’re killing me.’ I’m just proud of the fact that we had her ready and brought her here and she ran really well.”
“Down the stretch, we came together,” said Smith. “[That was] the reason for the foul, but we didn’t knock each other outside. We just came together nice and easy and then after that, we actually did the same thing again when she came down. It didn’t cost either filly anything and the best filly won today. What a gallant race she ran today. It was a really big race she won today.”
“Abel Tasman has been a good ambassador for the American racing industry, introducing racing for many people around the world, especially members of the China Horse Club,” said China Horse Club Found Teo Ah Khing. “Our family has derived tremendous pleasure and enjoyment in watching her and seeing her develop and generating comradery between us and the trainer and jockey.”
Abel Tasman made her mark last year with a last-to-first victory in the mud at Churchill Downs in the GI Kentucky Oaks and followed suit with a decisive score in Belmont’s GI Acorn S. Besting Elate by a head in a similarly run renewal of the CCA Oaks, the bay was second in the GI Cotillion S. at Parx and came charging late to just miss behind champion older mare Forever Unbridled (Unbridled’s Song) in the GI Breeders’ Cup Distaff, sewing up the divisional championship. A surprising fourth as the favorite in the GI La Troinne S beneath the Twin Spires on seasonal bow May 4, the 4-year-old returned to winning ways with an ultra-impressive 7 1/2-length score in Belmont’s GI Ogden Phipps S. June 9, just hours before her part owners, the China Horse Club’s silks were carried to Triple Crown glory by Justify (Scat Daddy).
Abel Tasman’s dam Vargas Girl, a maiden of eight career starts, was purchased for $130,000 at the 2010 Keeneland January Sale carrying her third foal by Sky Mesa, who turned out to be GIII Dogwood S. winner Sky Girl. Three years later, Vargas Girl produced another Sky Mesa filly in the stakes-placed Moonlight Sky, who brought $675,000 from China Horse Club International at last year’s FTKNOV Sale. Vargas Girl is a half-sister to GISW Bevo (Prospectors Gamble) and GSW Moonlight Sonata (Carson City), herself the dam of GSWs Wilburn (Bernardini) and Beethoven (Sky Mesa), as well as SW La Appassionata (Bernardini). Abel Tasman is her dam’s most recent produce.
SOURCE: TDN 8/25/18