Off poorly and coming under an early drive from jockey Luis Saez when well behind in the $360,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, Tapit Trice was racing more like a massive longshot than a 1-2 favorite.
But in the final furlong of the 1 1/16-mile race March 11 at Tampa Bay Downs, the Tapit colt showed why many were keen to back him in the Tampa Bay Derby and perhaps later this spring in the May 6 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve at Churchill Downs. Passing seven horses in the final eighth of a mile, the Tapit colt won going away by two lengths over runner-up Classic Car Wash. Second favorite Classic Legacy ran third, Prairie Hawk was fourth, and Lord Miles fifth. Early leader Dreaming of Kona, who set quick quarter-mile splits of :23.63, :46.96, and 1:11.39, retreated to sixth.
The top three finishers rallied from mid- or rear-pack, including Tapit Trice, who trailed passing the finish line the first time before moving up to be 11th of 12 after a quarter-mile. He was ninth and eighth in subsequent points of call before his determined midstretch finish.
“The start was a little slow, but as soon as he started to get going, he got big-time position for us,” Saez said. “When the dirt started hitting him in the face, he was a little green. But at the half-mile pole, he got going.”
Whisper Hill Farm and Gainesway Stable’s Tapit Trice was timed in 1:43.37, faster than the past two runnings of the Tampa Bay Derby but about a second and a half slower than Tacitus’ stakes record time of 1:41.90 in 2019. He paid $3 to win.
Tapit Trice’s victory gave his trainer, Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, a record-extending sixth victory in the Tampa Bay Derby. Though none of his other winners went on to win the Kentucky Derby — his 2017 winner, Tapwrit, took the Belmont Stakes — the Tampa Bay Derby is a race he has used to propel a horse to Derby glory. The first of his two Derby winners, Super Saver, ran third in the 2010 Tampa Bay Derby before a second-place finish in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park.
The trainer’s other Derby winner, Always Dreaming, prepped in 2017 at Gulfstream Park.
“It took him a while to get on track, but I was very impressed down the lane,” Pletcher said of Tapit Trice. “He finished up the way we expected him to. He certainly seems like the farther he goes, the stronger he gets. He’s got a big, long stride. Once he got clear down the lane, he really extended himself, and I loved the way he finished up. He relished the two turns, and the longer he goes, the better he’ll get.”
With the Tampa Bay Derby an official prep on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, Tapit Trice earned 50 qualifying points in victory, with points distributed on a 20-15-10-5 scale to those running second through fifth.
Churchill Downs uses qualifying points as a preference system when the race exceeds its 20-horse maximum field size. Tapit Trice is sixth on the Road to the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard. He will likely be able to pad his point total next month.
“I feel like he is still learning, though he got a good education today,” Pletcher said. “But he’s a horse that I think still needs a little more racing experience to completely put everything together. If he trains accordingly, we’re going to take a strong look at the [Toyoya] Blue Grass [Stakes].”
The Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes is a $1 million race at 1 1/8 miles at Keeneland April 8.
The Tampa Bay Derby winner, bred in Kentucky by Gainesway Thoroughbreds, was a $1.3 million purchase by Mandy Pope’s Whisper Hill Farm at the 2021 Keeneland September yearling sale from her breeder’s consignment. Gainesway joined Pope in partnership, desiring to race Tapit Trice.
The gray or roan colt is out of the stakes-winning, Grade 3-placed Dunkirk mare Danzatrice. He is the second foal and her first winner.
“Thanks to Mandy Pope for letting me stay in on this lovely colt,” said Antony Beck, owner and president of Gainesway Stable. “Thanks to her, and to [Peachtree Stable’s] John Fort for finding the mare for me.”
“It was awesome — just the whole team from Whisper Hill Farm, Gainesway, Todd Pletcher — it takes a mountain of people to be in this position, but the horse is the one who did it,” Pope said. “I lost track of him in the race and thought he was never going to make it up, but once he got free, he ate up the ground.”
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