A Tale of Two Fillies
One was making her graded debut; the other sought a third straight Grade 1.
One drew off to win by nine lengths; the other barely scored a head victory.
The fillies in question – Dream It Is and Abel Tasman – are both now riding a three-race win streak after capturing their latest starts on Saratoga’s opening weekend.
Dream It Is triumphed in the opening day’s feature – the 99th edition of the Schuylerville Stakes (G2) – last Friday, July 21. The Barbara Minshall trainee was making her third lifetime start, but her first on a conventional dirt surface after beginning her career over Woodbine’s synthetic Tapeta.
Dream It Is won her maiden debut at Woodbine on May 27, then returned June 24 to take the My Dear Stakes by 4 3/4 lengths under Luis Contreras. The rider was back in the saddle last Friday and guided her to a romping score in the Schuylerville at Saratoga in her first foray outside of Canada.
The Shackleford miss pressed the early pace set by Buy Sell Hold, followed Best Performance when that one spurted to the front, and took command of the race upon entering the lane. Up to this point Contreras was sitting chilly on Dream It Is, but got busy on the bay lass after take a peek behind to see the rest of the field beginning their moves.
Dream It Is responded to her pilot’s urging with a swish of the tail. She kicked into another gear and pulled away to finish six furlongs in 1:11.85 over the fast main track.
The Kentucky-bred miss, sent off the 9-2 fourth choice in the eight-filly field, surprised some with the easy score, including her trainer.
"It's amazing. To win a race and to win it like that," Minshall said. "We came with a horse that we thought was a good filly and had a shot, but I can't say I expected her to run as good as she did.
“We knew her ability coming in but she really showed another gear today."
Dream It Is has proven to be a dream purchase for her connections, brothers Andrew and David Hudson and their father, Greg. The trio make up Hoolie Racing Stable and paid $50,000 for the Schuylerville winner at the 2015 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.
After the Schuylerville, the Hudsons and Minshall were too busy enjoying the win to definitely decide on where Dream It Is will show up next.
"We're going to talk after this and see where we should go next. Obviously, she deserves a little break right now. She's just a baby," Minshall stated. "It's ultimately the owner's decision of where we'll go next. I can't say the Spinaway for certain, but it's definitely a maybe."
The $350,000 Spinaway Stakes (G1) would bring Dream It Is back from her Canadian base to Saratoga to sprint seven furlongs on September 2.
Abel Tasman’s success in the 101st running of the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) two days later on Sunday, July 23, was expected to mirror the ease with which Dream It Is had won.
The nine-furlong CCA Oaks turned out to be something else entirely.
Abel Tasman and jockey Mike Smith only had one horse beat rounding the first turn but had drawn closer to the front by the time the field entered the backstretch. In fact, the Bob Baffert trainee had moved all the way to the front and taken over.
Summer Luck, the original leader, kept running to Abel Tasman’s inside but began fading nearing the final bend. Meanwhile, Elate snuck up and suddenly powered through on the inside.
Abel Tasman and Elate drew away from the rest of the field, battling it out to the wire. Smith made it very tight for Elate and jockey Jose Ortiz, coming over and squeezing them almost into the rail. Abel Tasman and Elate made contact a few times before the former got her head down on the line for the win.
Afterward, Ortiz lodged an objection and the stewards also posted the inquiry sign into the stretch run. Eventually the result was allowed to stand and Abel Tasman made her way into the winner’s circle.
Smith claimed afterward it was "good, old fashioned race-riding," and it may have been, but it detracted from Abel Tasman’s win. Instead of allowing the Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner to prove herself against a worthy opponent, he bullied the other filly.
“I made it tight, but there's no rules that say you can't make it tight,” Smith shrugged.
That’s true, but Smith’s assertion that he didn’t put Elate in harm’s way is completely off base. The two fillies did make contact, as can clearly be seen in the head-on replay. At one point, Abel Tasman almost pushed Elate into the rail.
There is tight and then there is dangerously tight, and Smith crossed the line. If Elate hadn’t leaned back on Abel Tasman, she and Ortiz would have been through the rail. The way Abel Tasman was angled into Elate’s shoulder, the two fillies were also dangerously close to clipping heels.
All it would have taken was a slight stumble, and the result could have proven disastrous for both fillies and jockeys. Thank goodness both parties made it safely back.
Elate’s trainer, Bill Mott, was very diplomatic about the stretch run and the stewards’ decision.
"It was a tough call. A tough decision to make," Mott said. "I wouldn't say it's a bad call. He was race riding and they let it stand. If they would have let it gone the other way I could understand it."
Abel Tasman earned her third straight Grade 1 and also put herself in position to sweep the Triple Tiara, which is comprised of the Acorn Stakes (G1), which she captured on June 10 at Belmont Park, the CCA Oaks and the $600,000 Alabama Stakes (G1) at Saratoga on August 19.
Baffert wouldn’t commit Abel Tasman to the Alabama, but she could still show up for the 1 1/4-mile affair.
"It could be," he said. "I am going to bring her home (to California). We will play it by ear, see how she trains."
Mott sounded much more positive about Elate returning for the Alabama, and it could prove a nice rematch if Abel Tasman does return for the race.
"I thought when we started up the spring she was more of an Alabama-type filly then a Kentucky Oaks filly, and I said that in January and February,” Mott stated. "It looks like she's coming around at the right time. After this performance we certainly wouldn't be afraid of taking (Abel Tasman) on again at a mile and a quarter in the (Alabama). If our filly's good we'll be raring to go."