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NO DERBY, BUT ABEL TASMAN BOOSTS BAFFERT WITH OAKS WIN
Bob Baffert might have been back at Santa Anita Sunday morning celebrating his fifth Kentucky Derby victory, had not his undefeated Mastery been sidelined with an injury and missed Saturday’s 143rd Run for the Roses.
As it was, since he ran no horse this year, the most recognizable trainer on the planet didn’t play second fiddle among the hoi polloi at Churchill Downs, gaining the spotlight Friday by sending out Abel Tasman to a 9-1 upset in the $1 million Kentucky Oaks.
Back at his home base on an unseasonably brisk May morning, Baffert was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as he vamped with peers at Clockers’ Corner in advance of sending out 3-5 morning line favorite Vale Dori in today’s Adoration Stakes.
“Always Dreaming was the horse I thought would win,” said Baffert, himself a four-time Derby winner. “He was the fastest horse with brilliant speed and he got the trip. There were no surprises, although Classic Empire had a brutal start. He could have made a race of it maybe.”
Always Dreaming, a tepid 9-2 favorite, won by 2 ¾ lengths, giving Todd Pletcher his second Kentucky Derby victory. Classic Empire, according to Daily Racing Form’s chart footnotes, “bobbled soon after the break then was hammered off stride between rivals when forced down . . . swung five wide for the drive, had his run briefly interrupted when bumped and carried out mid stretch, regrouped and churned on.” He ran fourth, beaten nearly nine lengths.
Abel Tasman, meanwhile, gave Baffert something to smile about.
“Training her at Churchill for the race, I was scared to death of the track because it was speed-biased and there was mud on the rail,” Baffert said. “I just told Mike (Smith) to ride his own mare and don’t chase them. Going into it I knew I was up against it, but she came through.
“She looked great during training there, but nobody talked about her. It was nice to go in under the radar, so I wasn’t nervous. While we were there we went to see (American) Pharaoh Game On Dude, Silver Charm and War Emblem.
“We really enjoyed it. (Wife) Jill and (son) Bode really had a great time.”
As for Abel Tasman’s next race, Baffert preferred to enjoy the moment. “I haven’t looked beyond the Oaks,” he said. “I just wanted to get through that race, but she’ll probably be shipping all over the country.”
DERBY WAS NO GO FOR ROYAL MO AND STEVENS
Gary Stevens, a three-time winner of the Kentucky Derby, was on the outside looking in this year when his mount, Royal Mo, did not draw into the starting field of 20 due to a lack of qualifying points. He was one of two horses on the also eligible list, sitting at 21.
“I was in the jocks’ room (at Churchill Downs) watching the race,” Stevens said Sunday morning, back at Santa Anita. “I rode two races earlier. The winner (Always Dreaming) is a good horse, as is the second-place horse (Lookin At Lee). The winner ran the same race he ran in the Florida Derby, and he reminds me a lot of (2011 Kentucky Derby winner) Animal Kingdom, the way he accelerates.
“You don’t see horses visually drop down and accelerate like he did in the Florida Derby and like he did at the eighth pole yesterday. When Johnny (Velazquez) reached back and tagged him a few times, it was over with.”
1,000 FOR SUTHERLAND SIGNIFICANT FOR MULLINS, TOO
Jeff Mullins and Chantal Sutherland had cause to celebrate after Saturday’s third race, Mullins sending out Giro Candillo for new client Donald Valpredo and Sutherland guiding the son of Twirling Candy bred in California by Valpredo to a half-length victory, marking career win No. 1,000 for the 40-year-old Winnipeg, Ontario native.
“It was pretty significant, winning first out for Don,” Mullins said. “I was happy
for Chantal, too. We’re two for two together at the meet, so that’s great.”
Added Sutherland’s agent, Tommy Ball: “A thousand wins is a good milestone for any jockey. How many female riders have won 1,000 races, or for that matter, how many jockeys? Anyway you look at it, it’s pretty good.”
FINISH LINES: Santa Anita Derby runner-up Battle of Midway performed admirably finishing third in the Kentucky Derby, looking like he had every chance to win with a quarter mile to go, and will return to Santa Anita shortly. “I hear that he came out of the race really good,” said Dan Ward, assistant to Jerry Hollendorfer, who trains the son of 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Smart Strike. “He’ll fly back here Tuesday and after that we’ll decide what’s next. He always tries. We’re very excited and very proud of him.” . . .Trainer Art Sherman and owner Kaleem Shah celebrated their first winner together afterBesides The Point rolled to a six-length triumph in Saturday’s fourth race under Joe Talamo at a $22.40 payoff. “It was nice to win one for Kaleem,” Sherman said. “We hope to have quite a few more.” Sherman later enjoyed watching the Kentucky Derby, “especially since I picked the winner. Tactical speed wins races like that most of the time,” said Sherman, who saddled two-time Horse of the YearCalifornia Chrome to capture the 2014 edition . . . Congratulations to Daily Racing Form’s Steve Andersen, Ron Gierkink and Craig Milkowski on picking Always Dreaming to win the Kentucky Derby. None of the 20 selectors had 33-1 runner-up Lookin At Lee picked higher than fourth . . . Former jockey and current trainer Kenny Black points out that Above Perfection, dam of Kentucky Derby winnerAlways Dreaming, was raised and broken at Old English Rancho in Sanger, California, before being sold to former trainer Darrell Vienna and his then-owner, David Milch . . . There is a Pick Six carryover into Sunday of $53,424.