February 7, 2023

Kentucky Derby Report March 15: Mastery sidelined, Tapwrit romps in Tampa

The San Felipe (G2) at Santa Anita epitomized the highs and lows of the Kentucky Derby trail as Mastery returned with a smashing victory but sustained a foot injury that knocks him out of the equation. The Candy Ride colt underwent surgery on Monday and it’s too soon to know if he’ll make it back to the races.

“We’ve been so high on this horse and you see what he did today was just incredible and puts him as the best 3-year-old in the nation,” trainer Bob Baffert said in the winner’s circle before learning the extent of the injury.

The San Felipe shared the spotlight Saturday with the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and Tapwrit gave us something to be excited about in a convincing win, rallying into the frame with a dynamic move on the far turn before powering away to a 4 ½-length decision.

Tampa Bay Derby

Tapwrit entered 2017 in relative obscurity, breaking his maiden the second time out at Gulfstream Park West in early November and winning the off-the-turf Pulpit over a sloppy Gulfstream track five weeks later. The gray Tapit colt offered nice middle moves both times but was overlooked at 9-1 when stepping up for the February 11 Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs.

The Todd Pletcher trainee finished second to well-regarded McCraken in the Sam Davis but lacked the same acceleration after racing close to the pace along the inside. He didn’t take advantage of a brief opening entering the stretch and was eventually forced to alter course after being stopped on the rail, rallying belatedly to be a clear second late while never a threat to the winner.

The Tampa Bay Derby represented a big step forward. Tapwrit wasn’t as eager from the break, settling off the pace in eighth beneath Jose Ortiz, and offered an eye-catching turn of foot to inhale rivals rounding the far turn.

“When I asked him between the half-mile and three-eighths poles, he let me know he was going to win the race right away,” Ortiz said. “He’s really scary, and I think he is going to keep improving.”

He looked the part overhauling pacesetter State of Honor in upper stretch and carrying his momentum home, completing 1 1/16 miles in a stakes record 1:42.36. Tapwrit registered a career-best 101 BRIS Speed rating.

The $1.2 million yearling purchase has a similar profile to 2016 Tampa Bay Derby winner Destin, another well-bred colt who emerged as a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender for Pletcher in Tampa stakes. Destin skipped the final round of prep races and trained up to the first Saturday in May off an eight-week rest, checking in a non-threatening sixth at Churchill Downs, but Pletcher indicated they’ll probably utilize a final prep for Tapwrit. A pair of April 8 races, the Blue Grass (G2) at Keeneland and Wood Memorial (G2) at Aqueduct, would be likely destinations.

Another start can’t hurt his fitness and considering every Kentucky Derby winner in modern times has raced at 1 1/8 miles beforehand, there’s probably a direct benefit of giving a lightly-raced type like Tapwrit another outing in the eight-week interim.

Tapit has sired two of the last three winners of the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes (G1) and it’s probably only a matter of time before he gets his first Kentucky Derby winner. However, Tapwrit’s female family is more speed-oriented. He’s out a mare by noted sprinter Successful Appeal, who has shown some versatility as a stallion but isn’t found in the immediate bloodlines of any Triple Crown race winners.

Tapwrit looked strong finishing both starts this year and I’m not worried about his breeding at this point.  He didn’t appear to beat any quality rivals in the Tampa Bay Derby, but Tapwrit is certainly progressing nicely and is eligible to make a significant impact this spring.

State of Honor held second but doubt he can show more against deeper competition at longer distances. Wild Shot offered a moderate closing kick to get up for third, but he hasn’t shown the necessary improvement at age 3 after concluding the juvenile campaign with a couple of placings versus graded foes.

San Felipe

Iliad could not challenge Mastery and one can take the glass half-full approach to his runner-up finish. A good-looking winner of the February 12 San Vicente (G2) at 7-furlongs, the lightly-raced ridgling ran into a buzzsaw in his two-turn debut and can keep improving off the experience. The son of Ghostzapper possesses a stout pedigree for longer distances and is being prepared by two-time Kentucky Derby winner Doug O’Neill.

The optimistic analysis could prove on point, with Iliad returning to run a big race in the April 8 Santa Anita Derby (G1) that sets him up perfectly for Churchill Downs, but I came away from the San Felipe with some doubts surrounding his chances at longer distances.

Iliad benefited from a perfect trip, stalking in third as Gormley pressured Mastery from the start, and a battle appeared on as Iliad advanced to near even terms off the far turn. But while Mastery had more to offer under Mike Smith, drawing away to a comfortable 6 ¾-length tally, Iliad appeared to become discombobulated in midstretch, switching back to the wrong lead and swishing his tail upward as he quickly checked out of the action in the 1 1/16-mile race.

He acted like he wanted no part of extended distances and it wasn’t what I wanted to see as a fan of the horse entering the race. His 94 BRIS Speed rating was also disappointing.

Gormley was done by the conclusion of the far turn and weakened to be nearly 10 lengths up the track in fourth. The Grade 1-winning juvenile may rebound with an improved showing in the final prep but 1 ¼ miles looks far from ideal for the speedy colt.

Other runners of interest

Battle of Midway withstood the late bid of Reach the World by a neck in a March 9 Santa Anita allowance at 1 1/16 miles. Out of the Grade 1-winning Rigoletta, the Smart Strike colt is now 2-for-3 for Jerry Hollendorfer, the lone setback being a third to Iliad in the San Vicente (G2), and is likely headed to the Santa Anita Derby (G1) on April 8. However, he will need to improve upon a 92 BRIS Speed rating. A slow pace contributed to the lower number but it’s still a terrible figure for mid-March.

Reach the World, a Baffert-trained Tapit colt out of a mare by Galileo, just missed after breaking his maiden by 3 ¼ lengths on February 4. The colt has the same ownership of star sophomore filly Unique Bella, who would be the fastest horse in the April 8 Santa Anita Derby (G1) field and an odds-on favorite with Mastery’s absence, but she appears headed to Santa Anita Oaks (G1), leaving Reach the World to try and post an upset for Don Alberto Stable.

Up ahead

The Road to the Kentucky Derby series returns to Oaklawn Park for the third of four qualifying races at the Hot Springs, Arkansas track, the $900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2). Petrov, runner-up in the Smarty Jones and Southwest (G3), heads a home contingent that includes Uncontested and Lookin at Lee.

Todd Pletcher shipped in to win the Southwest with One Liner and will send another unbeaten colt for the 1 1/16-mile Rebel in Magalacy, who has earned century-topping BRIS Speed ratings posting a pair of convincing sprint wins at Gulfstream.

A six-time winner of the Rebel, including the last three editions with Cupid, American Pharoah and Hoppertunity, Baffert will ship in American Anthem, who exits a head second in the Sham (G3) in his second career outing. Robert B. Lewis (G3) scorer Royal Mo will also invade from California for John Shirreffs.

Kentucky Derby Top 20

  1. MCCRAKEN: Back working after minor ankle issue, unbeaten colt pointing for April 8 Blue Grass
  2. AMERICAN ANTHEM: Well-regarded Baffert trainee seeks to confirm legitimacy in Rebel
  3. GUNNEVERA: Last-to-first specialist to receive final tune-up in Florida Derby
  4. TAPWRIT: Looked like a major player recording big win in Tampa Bay Derby
  5. CLASSIC EMPIRE: Returned to worktab with half-mile breeze Sunday, champion 2yo tyargeting Blue Grass but can’t afford any more setbacks
  6. ILIAD: San Felipe runner-up could go favored in Santa Anita Derby barring any surprise additions
  7. J BOYS ECHO: Looked good winning Gotham but let’s see him back it up in Blue Grass
  8. PRACTICAL JOKE: Second opening year in Fountain of Youth, Brown trainee attempts to move forward in final prep
  9. GIRVIN: Risen Star winner will try to enhance profile in Louisiana Derby
  10. BATTALION RUNNER: Promising Pletcher trainee gets one chance to qualify in Florida Derby
  11. ONE LINER: Talent is there but 1 ¼ miles represents daunting challenge given his bloodlines
  12. LOOKIN AT LEE: Third when opening year in Southwest; never a serious win threat but gets part often
  13. ROYAL MO: Robert B. Lewis win didn’t come back fast but could still have a nice upside for Shirreffs
  14. PETROV: Hard-trying Smarty Jones & Southwest runner-up a top contender in Rebel
  15. IRISH WAR CRY: Fountain of Youth was too bad to be true; headstrong colt must learn to settle
  16. MO TOWN: Promising juvenile performer flopped making 2017 bow in Risen Star, will try to rebound in Wood Memorial
  17. BATTLE OF MIDWAY: Recent allowance scorer will make stakes bow in Santa Anita Derby for Hollendorfer
  18. REACH THE WORLD: Tapit colt just missed vs Battle of Midway, headed to Santa Anita Derby for Baffert
  19. UNCONTESTED: 10 furlongs may be too far but eligible to bounce back with strong showing in Rebel
  20. EPICHARIS: Japanese runner will prep for Churchill in March 25 U.A.E. Derby