LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Bob Baffert had been a little melancholy about his absence from the 143rd Kentucky Derby. He’d had a kind of “party’s over” feeling after leading American Phaorah to the Triple Crown and returning with Mor Spirit, who finished 10th a year ago.

Baffert joked that he’d be slinking out of town like a golfer who misses the cut at the Masters. But he wasn’t joking about not sticking around for the Derby this year.  He plans to fly back to California Saturday morning and watch the race comfortably from his home, within view of his Triple Crown trophy.

If he wants, he’ll be able to take one more trophy with him. Baffert showed Friday that he hasn’t quite exhausted his supply of Churchill Downs magic, saddling 9-1 shot Abel Tasman, the fourth choice in a field of 14, in a 1 1/4 –length victory in the $1 million Kentucky Oaks before a crowd of 105,100.

Taking advantage of quick early fractions by unbeaten Paradise Woods and Miss Sky Warrior, Abel Tasman sauntered out of the gate and tucked inside, was steadied by jockey Mike Smith and then went to work with three furlongs to go, sweeping six-wide into the lane then pulling ahead at the three-sixteenths pole before drawing away.

A jubilant Baffert and his son, Bode, provided memes for a month when both “dabbed” in the winner’s circle.

“We ruined our shoes and our sport coats, but it was well worth it,” said Baffert, who won the Oaks for the third time. “. . . To win the Kentucky Oaks, it’s a great honor. These two days of racing, it’s the biggest stage in the country. So, when you can do that when everybody is watching, it makes it better.”

Abel Tasman, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Quality Road out of the Deputy Minister mare Vargas Girl, covered the 1 1/8 mile in 1:51.62 over a sloppy track. She is owned by China Horse Club and Clearsky Farms.

Smith, who won the Oaks for the second time, said he just watched the leaders burn it up and waited for his chance.

“I didn’t expect to be that far back,” said Smith, who was last after a quarter mile and 13th after a half. “But I wanted to make my way over to the rail. . . . They were going really fast. I actually rode her, and I was still that far back. I knew they were running really quick, especially for that racetrack. . . . Once I got her to the rail, she was really having trouble with it, but when we got out to the crown, out in the middle, she seemed to level off and we got back in the race.”

Baffert says he has a pattern in Louisville. If a horse runs and doesn’t win, the family will go to a sports bar to eat after the races. If they win, they’ll go to a nice steakhouse.

In the middle of the backstretch, Baffert said his wife, Jill, said, “I guess we’re eating at the sports bar tonight.”

Not quite. Baffert managed another big one, even if he doesn’t have a colt in the biggest race.

“If I had something in, I’d stay,” he said. “But if I don’t have anything in – I don’t know what I’d do with myself. I need to have something to get me nervous or some challenge or whatever.”

After being pressed hard early, Paradise Woods faded back to 11th. Trainer Richard Mandella said, “What are you going to do? The big race at Santa Anita (her last win, the Santa Anita Oaks) might’ve taken too much out of her.”

Kelly Breen, trainer of Miss Sky Warrior, said she lost a shoe around the first turn.

The crowd was the 11th-largest in Oaks history, but down nearly 20,000 from last year’s attendance, because of the cold, wet weather.

“Crappy weather,” Baffert said. “But a great day for us. I’m happy for this filly.”

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