KENTUCKY OAKS ANOTHER FEATHER FOR BAFFERT AND SMITH
When Abel Tasman circled the field and won the Kentucky Oaks, was anyone really surprised to see Bob Baffert and Mike Smith in the winner’s circle on the big stage again? Perhaps their philosophical approach and a little luck were the keys.
Recent times have been good for this veteran tandem in the Thoroughbred racing game. Both have been highly successful and deserving members of the sport’s hall of fame as they have been great for decades. Lately, when the stakes are the highest, “big race Bob” and “big money Mike” have been hauling home the hardware. But just a few weeks ago it looked as if they might be left out on Derby weekend as injury and misfortune left them on the outside of the Oaks and Derby picture. Then the China Horse Club called and asked the silver-haired conditioner to take over training their prime time three-year old filly Abel Tasman. Following a second place finish in the Santa Anita Oaks in this daughter of Quality Road’s first go under Baffert, it was off to Churchill Downs for the pair.
We fast forward to the May 5 Kentucky Oaks. Using his years of experience, Baffert added blinkers to help his new horse focus and Mike Smith was typical Mike Smith in the irons. Abel Tasman broke and settled at the back of the field chasing a hot early pace (22.79 opening quarter, 46.24 half mile). Gobbling up ground in the far turn and passing runners as if they were standing still, she moved into the stretch, swung outside the leaders and took the lead inside the eighth pole. Encouraging his horse home, Smith captured his second Kentucky Oaks (Princess of Sylmar) with another brilliant ride.
“I knew the horses up front had to be going pretty fast because we were moving ok and they were way ahead of us,” says Smith. “Bob has confidence in me and pretty much just lets me ride like it comes up. We moved inside but she did not like the kick back in her face so I swung her out wider and she stayed within herself. I may have hit the front a little too soon, but once she started going I was not going to try and stop her.”
Smith didn’t stop her and at 9 to 1, Abel Tasman took her team to the winner’s circle. The win once again proved that keeping the faith is always important for the veteran rider.
“Your mom tells you when your growing up to surround yourself with good people and good things will happen,” says Smith. “It’s all about being prepared yourself and being the best you can be so when the good people and good horses come along good things will happen.”
For Bob Baffert it has been a lot of the same. As a major player in writing recent horse racing history, the California based conditioner was happy to be a factor on the first weekend in May once again.
“Thank God for Abel Tasman,” says Baffert. “In this sport things can change overnight. It’s a crazy game and maybe why I have white hair. But you know what, it’s a sport and as a trainer you’re like a coach. I don’t rest on my laurels. I never look back and think about what I have done, I am always looking forward and thinking about what I can do next. That is what drives me and you have to have a certain stomach for it. You have to accept that sometimes you are going to have bad luck. You just have to be prepared to get back in the saddle. I just wake up everyday and try to move forward.”