All Is Well on Sunday
Tacitus, winner of the Wood Memorial presented by NYRA Bets, was no worse for wear the morning after, and on the first Saturday in May, Tacitus will seek to give trainer Bill Mott and owner Juddmonte Farms their first victory in the Run for the Roses.
Tacitus managed to overcome an unfavorable trip in the early stages of the Wood, when jockey Jose Ortiz was forced to check during the first turn of the race.
"He came out of it very well," said Mott's assistant Leana Willaford. "He was a little tired, but that's to be expected. It's nice to see him overcome. He'll go back to the track here in three days, and we'll train him lightly and send him over there when Bill gets to Churchill."
Willaford noted the conformational improvement that Tacitus has made over time.
"He's changed a lot from July," Willaford said. "Then to not see him over the course of the winter, he's matured a ton. He's definitely filling out. He still has some more growing to do, he's only three. He's a big old horse."
Willaford recalled having worked with his dam, Close Hatches.
"I used to get on that mare all the time," Willaford said. "She was more amped up than Tacitus. He's actually really laid back. She was a little bit more of a handful."
Tax is good Sunday morning after his second-place finish, trainer Danny Gargan said. Gargan said his charge has improved and matured as he got older.
"Everything was good this morning," Gargan said. "I thought he ran a tremendous race and can move forward off that effort. His last three races, he's improved tremendously. He learned a lot in the Remsen, and then he moved forward in the Withers. We gave him almost nine weeks between those races, and yesterday, he showed up.
"He got a little tired and got pushed down on the rail late, which was a little dead. But it was his first race in a while. I think we're set to move forward off this now. The goal all along was the Derby. That's why we passed on the Gotham.
"It was a risk to only run twice because with these point systems, you have to run well every time if you aren't running. We were lucky enough to win one prep and do well in another. To pass on a race in between, it was a gamble, but it's going to pay off in the long run."
Tax, under jockey Junior Alvarado, bested potential Derby contender Haikal by 2 3/4 lengths. He earned a 95 Beyer Speed Figure for the effort. Gargan said the potential is there for a slew of talented 3-year-olds to make an impact.
"He breaks good out of the gate. If he breaks good, he can sit forwardly placed. He can also sit in the middle of the pack, he's a cool horse that way," Gargan said. "If everything goes as planned and we get to the Derby, we have a chance. His numbers line him up with anyone. As of now, there doesn't seem to be any Justify in there or any monsters. No one has really been better than anyone else yet. So, we're just hoping to get blessed and get a good trip."
Following a belated closing third-place effort in the Wood Memorial, Haikal will more than likely ship to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said today.
"He came out of the race in good shape," McLaughlin said. "I still have to talk to (Shadwell Racing Manager) Rick Nichols. I think so. We've been texting back and forth, but I just want to talk to him and make sure. I would assume we're pointing that way. He ran very well, he finished the fastest last quarter, and we just needed another furlong."
Haikal's sire, Daaher, took the Cigar Mile in 2008, but McLaughlin said Haikal appears to be a horse that will appreciate some added distance.
"That's his sire, you can't really go by that," McLaughlin said. "He's a really neat horse and he can go all day. He came out of the race in good shape and ran very well. All systems are go."
All five of Haikal's career starts have taken place at Aqueduct. After a second-out maiden win on Dec. 15, he won the seven-furlong Jimmy Winkfield Stakes on Feb. 9 before taking the Gotham Stakes.