For many, the biggest moment this Saturday was Always Dreaming winning the Kentucky Derby. The Derby is always the biggest story in the first weekend of May. Why wouldn’t it be? The world’s most famous horse race only happens once a year.
But to me, a much bigger story emerged over the weekend. To me, the biggest story was how Bob Baffert and Mike Smith paired up, once again, to win one of the biggest three-year-old horse races of the year. This time, Baffert and Smith won the Kentucky Oaks with filly Abel Tasman.
Arrogate, 2016 Travers Stakes
It seems like forever when Arrogate won the Travers over Gun Runner, Exaggerator, Governor Malibu, Connect, Creator, and American Freedom. What all those horses have in common is that they went off at lower odds in the Travers than Arrogate did. Exaggerator, for good reason, was the $2.55 to 1 chalk to win the Travers Stakes last August. American Freedom was considered Baffert’s Travers’ horse. He went off at 5 to 1 win the Mid-Summer Derby. All Arrogate did was take the lead and run off to an easy win.
The son of Unbridled’s Song hasn’t lost since. Arrogate is the top rated horse in the world. He’s so good that he easily won the Dubai World Cup after having to go wide and coming from behind, which isn’t what he normally wants to do.
Abel Tasman, 2017 Kentucky Oaks
Oh, how we horseplayers forget, right? I know that on May 5, I didn’t remember that Baffert and Smith had just paired up less than a year ago to win a huge three-year-old race with an under the radar equine. Not me. I kept my hands in my pockets because the only thing I was going to do is put money on Paradise Woods and the 4/5 odds were just too low.
I do remember texting my brother on May 5 referring to Abel Tasman. My text read don’t you think the Baffert is going off at higher odds than she should? But, still, I did nothing. Even when I heard that Mike Smith was jumping aboard Abel Tasman for the first time, I kept my hands in my pocket. All of my innate horseplaying senses told me to put money on Abel Tasman…and I kept my hands in my pocket.
What’s really sad is that the Oaks set up almost identical to the 2016 Travers Stakes. The main difference is that Smith was riding Abel Tasman for the second time in the Kentucky Oaks. He had rode the filly to a second place finish to Paradise Woods in the Santa Anita Oaks.
I’m never going to make that mistake again. I’ve developed some blind bet rules. One of those rules is never go against Corey Nakatani on the grass. What that means is that if Corey Nak is on a horse on the grass, I had better have that horse on my tickets somewhere. Form be damned.
Smith and Baffert pairing together with an underrated horse in a huge three-year-old race just became a blind bet rule.