If Tapit Trice’s Tampa Bay Derby (G3) victory left a few questions about his chances in the Kentucky Derby (G1), the Todd Pletcher trainee went some way toward answering them with a professional display in Saturday’s $998,125 Blue Grass (G1) at Keeneland. The 1.64-1 favorite put himself into the game earlier and wore down Verifying in a stretch battle, the pair pulling 5 3/4 lengths clear of the rest.
While Tapit Trice still didn’t break sharply from his rail post, the $1.3 million Keeneland September yearling regrouped in smoother fashion than he had at Tampa. Regular rider Luis Saez asked him to improve early, and the Tapit colt responded. Swinging off the fence behind the bulk of the field, Tapit Trice established himself in the clear for the run down the backstretch, and he gradually improved position.
That was key because the pace had grown tepid, set by 86-1 longshot Clear the Air through splits of :23.32, :48.04, and 1:12.57. Verifying, the 2.35-1 second choice, was in the proverbial catbird’s seat in second, and he pounced swinging for home.
Tapit Trice by that point was near enough to cover Verifying’s move. Although having to be driven more than the apparently nimbler Verifying, Tapit Trice had the upper hand once he could deploy his stride down the lane. A neck up at the wire, the blueblood gray negotiated 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.
But before the result could be declared official, the stewards had to deal with an objection lodged by Verifying’s jockey, Tyler Gaffalione, who alleged interference from Tapit Trice. The head-on replay suggested that the runner-up himself had shifted out a bit. In any event, there wasn’t cause to think that Tapit Trice had committed an infraction, and the order of finish was confirmed.
“I just feel like I was riding Tapit Trice perfectly,” Saez said regarding Gaffalione’s claim of foul. “We came and passed the other horse (Verifying) clear and then when I was in front I felt like somebody hit my horse from behind. I feel like the other guy (Gaffalione) tried to look for a chance and look for a foul. That’s what I feel. I didn’t feel like we would come down. I kept the horse straight and he won the race.”
Tapit Trice garnered another 100 Kentucky Derby points, giving him a total of 150. Verifying added 40 for a total of 54.
Blazing Sevens, who had worked his way into contention turning for home, could not go the pace of the top two and settled for third. The 30-point haul increases his tally to 46, although it remains to be seen if trainer Chad Brown would try to advance to the Derby off this effort.
Sun Thunder rallied on the inside for fourth, good for 20 points to boost his account to 54. Another neck back was the closing Raise Cain in fifth (10 points), and he now has 64. Next came Mendelssohns March, Hayes Strike, Classic Car Wash, Scoobie Quando, Major Blue, and Clear the Air.
Tapit Trice races in partnership for Mandy Pope’s Whisper Hill Farm and his breeder, Antony Beck’s Gainesway, which stayed involved after the colt brought $1.3 million at auction. His form was upheld later Saturday when Lord Miles, coming off a fifth in the Tampa Bay Derby, shocked the Wood Memorial (G2).
Tapit Trice’s scorecard stands at 5-4-0-1, $883,650. A winner second time out around Aqueduct’s one-turn mile last December, he crushed a similarly-configured Gulfstream Park allowance on Feb. 4. That made him the 1-2 favorite in the Tampa Bay Derby, where he lagged well out of it before flying late. A repeat of that likely wouldn’t have gotten the job done at Keeneland, so the Blue Grass represented a meaningful step forward.
“First of all, we had a tough position,” Saez said of the rail draw, “especially with him, because he takes a little while to get going. In the first turn we had an opportunity to put him in the clear. I made a little move early, because the pace was pretty slow, so I could get behind the horse we were supposed to beat. I know we have to beat everybody, but that was the horse (Verifying) to follow, so we were right there, and when he made his move we were right on top of him.”
Pletcher likewise noted that the clutch decision was getting out into the clear early.
“He didn’t jump well,” the Hall of Famer said, “but then he gained a little momentum. It got a little hairy going into the first turn, but when he was able to secure that spot, (jockey) Luis (Saez) was able to take him out in the clear down the backside. That was the position we hoped to get into, and once he got into that stride I thought we were in good shape.
“Yeah, that’s him,” Pletcher added regarding the colt’s habit of breaking a beat slow. “We’re not going to make him into a quick horse. The distances, as they stretch out, we always felt like would make him better. I think (the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby) is right in his wheelhouse.”
Pletcher will have three major contenders for the May 6 Run for the Roses, with champion Forte and Kingsbarns exiting victories in the Florida Derby (G1) and Louisiana Derby (G2), respectively.
Tapit Trice was produced by Grade 3-placed multiple stakes scorer Danzatrice, a daughter of Pletcher alum Dunkirk. Danzatrice is a half-sister to champion Jaywalk from the family of another past Pletcher trainee, multiple Grade 2-winning millionaire Mission Impazible.
Beck saluted co-owner Pope and sire Tapit, an institution at Gainesway, as well as recalling how they secured Tapit Trice’s dam.
“It’s wonderful to be partners with Mandy. It’s a great friendship. We both love, love horses; we both love the sport.
“Tapit has been an incredible stallion and this is another one of his incredible horses,” Beck continued. “I also want to thank John Fort (of Peachtree Stable), who selected Danzatrice for me as a two-year-old (at OBS April for $105,000). Without that, we wouldn’t be here.”