by Teresa Genaro
Tax returned to the winner’s circle at Saratoga on Saturday, but the story of the race might belong to the runner-up.
Despite the presence of Preakness Stakes (G1) winner War of Will in the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2), both the morning-line maker and the bettors sent Belmont Stakes (G1) runner-up Tacitus to the post as the 1.60-1 favorite. And in a moment that recalled the old saying, “They’re off, you lose,” the gray three-year-old stumbled badly at the break, going to his knees before recovering under Jose Ortiz.
Meanwhile, Tax and Irad Ortiz Jr. went to the lead, only to be aggressively overtaken by War of Will and Tyler Gaffalione, who opened up a two-length lead heading up the backstretch, as Tacitus brought up the rear – a position he may well have held, given his running style, even without the bad break.
Tax remained in second as War of Will set steady fractions of :24.89 and :48.80, Tacitus slowly creeping up along the rail to join the fray. Coming around the final turn, Tax came back to challenge War of Will as Tacitus, too, threatened, and at the eighth-pole, it was anybody’s race.
War of Will surrendered at the sixteenth-pole, leaving Tacitus to stubbornly get to the lead, but Tax held him off to win by three-quarters of a length, his first win since the Withers Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct in February.
Global Campaign was third, 3 3/4 lengths behind Tacitus. Laughing Fox, War of Will and Mihos completed the order of finish.
“I was thinking to be very aggressive today on him going into the first turn,” Jose Ortiz said of Tacitus. “I wanted to break good and make everybody use a little bit at the first sixteenth of a mile.
“Unfortunately, he stumbled and after that, I used him a little bit just to bring him up to the field, and after the five-eighths pole, I saw an opening on the inside. I decided to let him go and let him catch up with the leaders a little bit. The rail opened for me by the three-eighths pole. I felt like it was too early to take that chance. I think the stumble cost me a lot for sure.”
Randy Hills, who owns Tax in partnership with Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Hugh Lynch and Corms Racing Stable, exulted.
“When you come to Saratoga, this is what you dream of,” he said during an interview with Fox Sports2 in the winner’s circle. “The Jim Dandy, heading to the Travers ([G1] on August 24).”
Claimed out of his second start for $50,000, Tax has earned $756,300. Bred in Kentucky by Claiborne Farm and Adele B. Dilschneider, he is by Arch out of the Giant’s Causeway mare Toll.
The runner-up in the Wood Memorial (G2), Tax finished 14th in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and fourth in the Belmont, and Hills was sanguine about his horse’s performances.
“Look,” he said. “You run on the Triple Crown trail, you run against the best horses in the country. The thing about this horse is, he never gives up. He shows up every time, and (trainer) Danny (Gargan) had him ready.”
On July 20, Tax worked a bullet four furlongs in :47.09, the best of 71 at the distance.
“I saw that work and I said to Dan (Reeves), ‘We’re going to win this goddamn thing,’” Hills said.