Tawny Port showed he was a skilled horse on synthetic this winter and spring at Turfway Park, winning two races there on Tapeta and placing in the Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks.
It turns out he is just a skilled horse, irrespective of the surface.
Shifting to race on dirt in the $398,750 Grade 3 Stonestreet Lexington Stakes at Keeneland April 16, the 3-year-old Pioneerof Nile colt rallied from eighth to run down pacesetting Major General. He won by a length, racing 1 1/16 miles on a fast track under Florent Geroux in 1:45.24. He returned $12.20 for a $2 win wager.
The final prep as part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, the Lexington distributed quality points toward the May 7 Grade 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on a 20-8-4-2 basis to its top four finishers. Tawny Port has 60 overall points, ensuring a spot in the Derby if it oversubscribes beyond its 20-horse maximum field size.
“He responded today. There was a little bit of a question mark with how well he would handle the dirt,” winning trainer Brad Cox said.
Major General, who set splits of :23.85, :48.01 and 1:12.45, held second in the Lexington over In Due Time, who finished a length and a half behind in third. Ethereal Road, racing on seven days rest after a seventh in the April 9 Grade 1 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes ran fourth, another length behind.
None of the three currently have sufficient points to rank among the top 20 horses on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard, though defections from the Derby over the next few weeks could clear the way for a berth. In Due Time is closest, ranking 22nd with 24 points.
Strava, Dash Attack, Midnight Chrome, Howling Time, Call Me Midnight, Skate to Heaven, and We All See It completed the order of finish.
The Lexington was the second dirt start for Peachtree Stable’s Tawny Port, who had run fifth in the Feb. 19 Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots against a high-caliber field that included Epicenter, Smile Happy, and Zandon.
“It looked like every horse who ran in there all came back and ran some very strong races, so we were hoping to do the same thing,” Geroux said. “(Tawny Port did) that today, in a very powerful way at the high end on the dirt. Looks like the distance should be no problem, and I hope the connections will take a swing at (the Derby).”
Cox said after the Lexington the Derby would be the colt’s next target if he exits the race in good order.
“I really felt like everybody was talking about ‘Derby prep, Derby prep,’ but to me, winning a race at Keeneland with a purse of $400,000, I don’t know how you top that,” said Peachtree Stables’ John Fort. “We’re just proud to have won this race. We don’t consider it a Derby prep. We just consider it an honor to have won it.”
Peachtree Stable has run three horses in the Derby, coming closest in 2001 with longshot Invisible Ink, who ran second for trainer Todd Pletcher.
Tawny Port was a $430,000 purchase at the 2020 September Yearling Sale by Fort from the Machmer Hall Sales consignment. Bred in Kentucky by WinStar Farm, he is out of the stakes-winning, graded-placed Macho Uno mare Livi Makenzie. He is the first stakes winner of her five foals, one of which is unraced. That unraced foal is a yearling filly by Always Dreaming.