Edges Past Stubborn Tax
By Dick Downey
Chelsea Durand/NYRA Photo
In the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, Tacitus overcame early bumping to win from off the pace and collect 100 more Kentucky Derby points, putting him at the top of the points leaderboard.
Ridden by Jose Ortiz, Tacitus finished the 1 1/8 mile in 1:51.23 after after laying six to eight lengths off early fractions of 23.62, 46.91 and 1:11.46 set by Joeiva, then Not That Brady.
Joevia's lead occurred after he initiated an early round of bumping and squeezing of horses when he veered in sharply leaving the gate while ridden by Nik Juarez. He and Not That Brady were seven lengths ahead of the runners next in line halfway down the backstretch. Those two runners were, in order, Tax and Tacitus, separated by one length.
Entering the far turn, the lead built by the early leaders was evaporating as Tax, with Junior Alvarado aboard, and Tacitus made their moves.
In the lane, Tacitus, on the outside, was shoulder to shoulder with Tax. Inside the furlong marker, Tacitus came in a bit, leading Tax to do the same, and Tacitus finished best by 1 1/4 length.
It was another 2 3/4 lengths back to the belatedly closing Haikal, who was eighth, 14 1/2 lengths behind, after the first half-mile with Ravij Maragh aboard. Longshot Math Wizard, ninth after the first half-mile, finished a half-length back of Haikal in fourth at odds of 64-1 under Eric Cancel.
The remaining order of finish was Not That Brady, Final Jeopardy, Joevia, Hoffa's Union, Grumps Little Tots, Outshine and Overdeliver. Joevia was disqualified and unplaced after a stewards review.
Owner Juddmonte Farms, Inc. will receive the $400,000 winner's share of the $750,000 purse and is solidly in the Kentucky Derby picture after their Hidden Scroll disappointed in the Florida Derby last Saturday. Bill Mott, who trains both horses, is too.
Tacitus supporters at the windows were paid $7.20 to win, $4.70 to place and $3.00 to show in return for their $2 wagers after Tacitus was sent off as the 5-2 favorite.
As for the all-important Kentucky Derby points, the breakdown is:
Tacitus received 100 (total 150)
Tax 40 (total 52)
Haikal 20 (total 70)
Math Wizard 10 (total 10)
To read more about Tacitus, his connections and background, click here.
Bill Mott, winning trainer of Tacitus: "I thought it was a very good effort. It was very rough on the first turn, but fortunately he came out of it in good order. When he got down the backside, I thought he had a nice, clear run by himself. He kind of got his feet back under him and regrouped a little bit. When it was time to run he started to wear them down.
"It's not a surprise, but you always hope they show up. He's a young horse and you never know what's going to happen in any race. Some horses would have been discouraged with what happened on the first turn. They could have backed out of it or decide they didn't want any part of it after getting roughed up like that
"He does take after his dam (Close Hatches). She was ready from the word 'go'.
She was one that was very aggressive and very fast. He's a little different type of horse. She was good up to a mile, a mile and an eighth. This horse, with the Tapit genes, seems like he's willing to go on, but he also seems to have enough speed to get him up and involved early in a race. He's certainly not a speed horse, but he has tactical speed and we know he's got talent and we know he's willing to overcome a little adversity.
"He'll probably stay here for another week and then go to Churchill Downs. I think the race sets him up well. I think the timing is fine. I think we've got a month to go back to the Derby. He's had two races and a lot of handicappers think the third race off the bench is the best, so I hope that group of handicappers is absolutely right. I think this effort puts him at or near the top of the list [of Derby contenders]."
Jose Ortiz, winning jockey: "I was pleased with his effort. I don't know about the other horses behind me, it was kind of crazy around the first turn. After that, he got a little bumped and he's a big horse. He managed to take that and go on and win the race. A mile and a quarter will suit him. The mile and an eighth didn't bother him, so I think going a little bit longer can be good too."
Garrett O'Rourke, Racing Manager of winning owner Juddmonte Farms: "We've been there [to the Kentucky Derby] five times now and came out of them all with our tail between our legs. We had two good runs, a huge disappointment with Empire Maker [second, 2003], because he was the horse that I felt was the best horse in the field and should have won. But it's not easy and we know that, so were going to go into it again knowing that it's not easy. We have a legitimate contender now that's bred to be a Derby horse and he's now proving that, hopefully, he is up to that standard."
Danny Gargan, trainer of runner-up Tax: "He ran huge. The horses laying up close all day have been running really well. I told Junior [Alvarado], let's just break out of there and get a good position. I didn't want to take back. Let's make them run into the first turn and make your move turning for home. If we get run down, it's okay. I don't mind running second today, I just wanted to make sure we got enough Derby points to get in. We might have moved a little early today, but we get to go to Louisville, Kentucky now."
Junior Alvarado, jockey aboard runner-up Tax: "I had a great trip. I knew that Not That Brady had speed and he likes to fight. I was second guessing myself by the three-eighths pole if I should go and attack him, so he doesn't get brave on the lead. At the same time, I wanted to wait a little longer because I know they were rolling up front. It was a decision I had to make, but if I had it to do again I would have waited a little longer to have a better kick at the end. But that's horse racing. He gave me everything turning for home and he never quit."
Kiaran McLaughlin, trainer of third-place Haikal: "We ran very well. Obviously, his first time around two turns he finished strong. He might do better with a little faster pace, but that could happen if we go to the Derby. You never know, two turns and the distance, it was a good answer - he answered the questions. He ran very well. He can do the distance. I don't know yet (about going to the Kentucky Derby). We'll talk to the owner."
Rajiv Maragh, jockey of third-place Haikal (No. 4): "He ran such a good race. Sometimes when you don't win, you don't think you ran well, but he ran great without winning. He put in a great finish. I had a great trip. The pace developed in front of me and I was pretty happy with what was happening. He picked it up and finished up strong. He got a lot of experience, because he had to take a lot of dirt and pass horses. You need that experience when you come with 20 horses in the Derby. I think that's crucial experience that he had."