LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Four-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert doesn’t have a horse in Saturday’s race, so he did the next best thing Friday at chilly, rainy Churchill Downs. He and Mike Smith teamed to take the 3-year-old fillies’ Derby, the $1-million Kentucky Oaks.
Smith surged from last to first on 9-1 shot Abel Tasman, who swept six wide into the stretch and drew off to defeat 12-1 Daddys Lil Darling by 1 1⁄4 lengths before a crowd of 105,100. Lockdown, at 36-1, was third. Pacesetter Paradise Woods, the 6-5 favorite, backpedaled to 11th of 14 after being pressured hard by Miss Sky Warrior on a sloppy track. Fractions of 22.79 and 46.24 seconds burned out the filly who beat Abel Tasman by 11 lengths last month in the Santa Anita Oaks.
“Big money Mike. What can you say?” said Baffert, who added blinkers because he and Smith thought Abel Tasman lost focus in two consecutive losses.
“The blinkers made a world of difference,” Smith said. “Once she got settled, we started to pick up horses pretty quick.
“I hit the front a little sooner than I wanted, and I was afraid she would pull herself up. But she stayed focused.”
Abel Tasman paid $20.40 after running 1 1⁄8 miles in 1:51.62 against the bias on a day when seven front-runners won the previous eight dirt races.
It was Baffert’s third Oaks win and his first since Plum Pretty in 2011. He planned to return to Southern California to watch the Derby on his couch. Abel Tasman earned $564,200 for the China Horse Club, which calls itself “Asia’s premier racing, business and lifestyle club,” and Clearsky Farms.
“It’s like my mom always told me,” Smith said. “If you surround yourself with good people, good things happen. I surround myself with Bob Baffert and other great trainers and owners, and this is the outcome.’’