Abel Tasman winning the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) at Churchill Downs – Coady Photography
One of my favorite races each year is the $700,000 Acorn Stakes (gr. I), a one-mile, one-turn race at Belmont Park for three-year-old fillies. The Acorn typically draws a strong field with an interesting mix of horses stretching out and cutting back in distance, providing plenty of opportunities to make a nice score if you can identify the key contenders.
On paper, the horse to beat in the Acorn is #3 Abel Tasman, who rallied from last place and sixteenth lengths off the pace to win the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) in impressive fashion. Trained by Bob Baffert, the daughter of Quality Road had previously won the Starlet Stakes (gr. I) and hasn’t finished out of the exacta since her debut, but while her overall form and speed figures are strong (she’s earned two triple-digit BRIS speed figures while none of her rivals have cracked the 100 mark), I have the feeling she’ll be over bet thanks to Kentucky Oaks victory.
It’s important to note that the Kentucky Oaks featured a quick early pace (:46.24 for the half-mile) that took a serious toll on horses racing close to the pace—the fourth quarter-mile was timed in a very slow :27.05, and the final furlong went in :13.15. These fractions gave closers a huge advantage, meaning that it could be difficult for Abel Tasman to repeat her Oaks effort under less ideal circumstances.
For the same reason, I’ll also lean against #8 Salty and #6 Tequilita, who finished fifth and seventh in the Kentucky Oaks despite racing well off the early pace. Salty did encounter some traffic trouble in the homestretch, but in my opinion this trouble was negated to some extent by a ground-saving trip over a track that appeared to be clearly favoring the rail.
This same track bias was also beneficial to #5 Benner Island and #1 Union Strike, who rode the rail to finish 1-2 in the seven-furlong Eight Belles Stakes (gr. II) earlier in the day. Of the pair, I definitely prefer Union Strike, who was moving like a winner early in the stretch before getting shut off at the rail, causing her to lose her momentum, shift to the outside, and re-rally to miss by just a head. Union Strike has never finished out of the exacta in four starts around one turn, including a decisive victory in the Del Mar Debutante (gr. I) last summer, and her career-best BRIS speed figure (a 99 in the Eight Belles) puts her into the mix.
But in my opinion, the most interesting filly to emerge from the Eight Belles Stakes might be #2 Florida Fabulous. Trained by David Fawkes, Florida Fabulous opened her career with two eye-catching victories in one-turn miles at Gulfstream Park, including an allowance win in which she carved out fractions of :44 3/5 and 1:08 2/5 before pulling away to win by nearly four lengths. In the Eight Belles, a slow start left Florida Fabulous off the pace, and while she made an early move to get as close as fourth place, she faltered while racing off the rail and retreated to finish tenth, beaten 15 lengths.
If you chalk up this disappointing effort to a poor trip over a sloppy track that she might not have cared for, it’s not hard to make a case that Florida Fabulous can win this race. She’s one of just two fillies in the Acorn field to have won a one-turn mile race, and having done it twice, it appears that this setup is a good fit for her. Her BRIS speed figures might be a little on the slow side (a pair of 89s for her two wins), but she’s facing a field without much early speed and figures to work out an ideal trip setting or stalking a modest pace. From there, I think she can post a 15-1 upset.
For the exacta, I would also consider #7 Sweet Loretta, a Todd Pletcher-trained filly that is unbeaten around one turn, with three of her four wins coming in graded stakes company. Following a winter break, she cruised to an easy three-length win in the Beaumont Stakes (gr. III) going an extended seven furlongs at Keeneland, earning a 97 BRIS speed figure. The four-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey Javier Castellano will be aboard, and a victory by Sweet Loretta certainly wouldn’t come as a surprise.
If I were to play the Acorn Stakes on a $20 budget, here are the tickets I would consider:
$6 to win on #2 Florida Fabulous ($6)
$3 exacta: 2,7 with 1,2,7 ($6)
$1 trifecta: 2,7 with 1,2,7 with 1,2,3,7 ($8)
Now it’s your turn! Who do you like in the Acorn Stakes?
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