by Teresa Genaro
Tacitus may be named for a Roman historian that one encyclopedia calls “the greatest prose stylists who ever wrote in the Latin language,” but it took more grit and guts than elegance to win the $750,000 Wood Memorial (G2) at Aqueduct.
Breaking from post 2 under José Ortiz, Tacitus was one of many horses involved in a scrum initiated by #11, Joevia, heading into the first turn of the nine-furlong race. Knocked sideways, Ortiz deftly kept his horse in the race, despite ricocheting into horses on both sides before steadying.
The 5-2 favorite took position along the rail in fourth while longshots Joevia and Not That Brady duked it out early, Tax trailing them by nearly a dozen lengths; heading around the final turn, as those two faded, Tacitus and Tax took their places, running neck-and-neck at the eighth pole, with Tacitus pulling away to win by 1 1/4 lengths.
The stewards called for what turned out to be a lengthy inquiry into the action heading into the first turn, finally disqualifying Joevia from seventh place, ordering that he be unplaced, and therefore forfeit any purse money he would have earned.
“To be honest with you, I didn’t realize there was a much trouble as I saw on the reply,” said Garrett O’Rourke, general manager of Juddmonte Farms, owner and breeder of Tacitus. “I couldn’t see what the cause of it was. I thought we were just a bit rank running into the first turn. When I saw the replay, I saw why he was running that way, and how much they all got bumped. Little bit of a crazy move, and a dangerous move, but I’m glad nobody was hurt.”
Tacitus earned 100 Kentucky Derby qualifying points for a total of 150. Tax earned 40, for a total of 52; Haikal exited the Wood with 70 points, adding 20 to the 50 he already had; and Math Wizard earned 10. The top three finishers have all earned points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby.
By Tapit out of the multiple Grade 1 winner Close Hatches and 2014 champion older mare, Tacitus is a fifth-generation Juddmonte homebred.
“Obviously from the time he was born, we were watching him as a potential star,” said O’Rourke, “and from the time we started training him as a 2-year-old, you could see he had a beautiful stride on him. It was just a mater of how far he could take it, and he’s taken it quite a long way so far, and the next step is an even bigger one.”
Tacitus didn’t make his first start until last October, and the Wood was just his fourth lifetime race.
“He’s just a big horse and we were delighted that Bill could get two runs into him as a 2-year-old,” said O’Rourke. “Bill rightly gave him some time to catch up in his growth, and I think he’s still got some more filling out to do which makes us feel good that he could improve even a little bit more. He reminds us of Empire Maker coming into the classics.”
Though O’Rourke might have hoped that Juddmonte would have two horses headed to the Kentucky Derby, he was philosophical about Hidden Scroll’s sixth-place finish in the Florida Derby last weekend.
“We’re in a very, very lucky position this year,” said O’Rourke. “It does take the pressure off us and Hidden Scroll, who we still think is a very, very nice horse, and we can do what’s right for him down the line.”