Tapit Trice (Tapit) won the GII Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby in his stakes debut back on Mar. 11, but that horse was never going to win the GI Kentucky Derby. Yes, he had become a Grade II winner, is by Tapit, cost $1.3 million at Keeneland September sale and is in the capable hands of Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. But the Tapit Trice that won the Tampa Bay Derby looked like an immature horse who had yet to figure the game out. Combine that with the fact that he beat a soft group of horses and earned a Beyer figure of only 88 and his chances to win a race as tough and as demanding as the Derby seemed slim.
Which meant there was room for improvement and that he had to getter better. It happened. In Saturday’s GI Toyota Blue Grass S. at Keeneland, this was a much better version of Tapit Trice. He looked like a horse that can beat stablemate Forte (Violence) and everyone else in the Derby.
It was evident from the start. At Tampa, Tapit Trice walked out of the gate and was so sluggish early on that he found himself in last within four or five strides of the horses leaving the gate. Down the backstretch, he was 11th out of 12 and 8 1/4 lengths behind the leader. In the Blue Grass, he broke with the field, losing nothing at the start. He still didn’t have the type of speed that could carry him to the front, but neither would he sluggishly drop back. At the first point of call in the Blue Grass, he was fourth, just 2 1/2 lengths off of the lead being set by Clear the Air (Ransom the Moon).
In the Tampa Bay Derby, jockey Luis Saez figured out early on that he needed to get close to the leaders. At the half-mile pole, he already had Tapit Trice under a drive and, at least initially, got no response. It was a much different scenario in the Blue Grass. Beginning in the run down the backstretch, Tapit Trice made a sharp move and seemed to be doing it on his own. He went from eighth to fourth in a matter of about 40 yards.
Tapit Trice looked beaten on the far turn at Tampa and didn’t do any real running until the final eighth. It was good enough for the win, which came over Classic Car Wash (Noble Bird). Note that he beat the same horse by 16 1/2 lengths in the Blue Grass.
Fast forward four weeks and Tapit Trice continued to make progress until drawing even with Verifying (Justify) at the top of the Blue Grass stretch. Verifying comes out of the loaded Brad Cox barn, finished second in the GI Champagne S. and romped in an Oaklawn allowance before finishing fourth in the GII Rebel S. He was a worthy foe and he put up a fight. Tapit Trice got by him in the final sixteenth, showing the type of determination that is important in any race and extra important in the Kentucky Derby.
This time his Beyer number was a 99. That’s just two points behind Two Phil’s (Hard Spun), whose 101 Beyer from the Jeff Ruby Steaks is best among horses headed to the Derby. It’s also faster than any number Forte has ever run.
That doesn’t mean that Tapit Trice has to win the Derby. It does mean that, after the Blue Grass, he has to be considered a major contender. He’s fast enough and has the right pedigree. But most importantly, he’ll come in to the race off of the best performance of his career and everything points to him continuing to get better.
At Santa Anita, Another Big Effort Out of a Japanese Horse
Practical Move (Practical Joke) won the GI Runhappy Santa Anita Derby Saturday, which was a surprise to no one. After his win the in GII San Felipe S., he looked like the best 3-year-old in California.
But what not many expected was the huge effort by runner-up Mandarin Hero (Jpn) (Shanghai Bobby), who finished second, losing by just a nose. Even with all the success Japanese horses have had around the globe of late, it looked like Mandarin Hero was up against it at Santa Anita. While he was 4-for-5 lifetime, he had been racing on Japan’s National Association of Racing (NAR) circuit. The NAR circuit is the lesser circuit in Japan and the horses that race at those tracks are supposed to be inferior to the horses who run at the Japan Racing Association (JRA) tracks.
So, if Mandarin Hero from the NAR can come that close to beating one of the top 3-year-old colts in the U.S., what does that say about Derma Sotogake (Jpn) (Mind Your Biscuits), who looked so good when winning the G2 UAE Derby? Derma Sotogake, who also finished third in the G3 Saudi Derby, came to the Middle East after winning three straight at JRA tracks.
The Japanese will also be represented by Continuar (Jpn) (Drefrong). A JRA horse, he earned an automatic spot in the Derby with his win in the Cattleya S. He was third, beaten 10 lengths, by Derma Sotogake in the UAE Derby.
As for Mandarin Hero, he may not get into the Derby. With 40 points, he currently sits 24th on the points standings for the race and will need a few defections to get in.
A Stunner in the Wood Memorial
There are too many Kentucky Derby prep races and not enough top 3-year-olds to go around, so one of the races had to suffer. And it’s the GII Wood Memorial. For decades it was one of the most important prep races for the Derby, but is now mired in a slump that goes back 20 years. The last Wood starter to win the Derby was Funny Cide (Distorted Humor) in 2003. Since then, 40 Wood starters have run in the Derby and not one crossed the wire among the top three. In 2019, Wood winner Tacitus (Tapit) was awarded third due to the disqualification of Maximum Security.
In 2017, the Wood Memorial was deservedly downgraded to a Grade II.
Things don’t figure to change this year. It was an exciting race with three horses separated by a nose and a head at the wire, but not a race that should inspire much confidence when it comes to the top three. Not when the race was won by a 59-1 shot in Lord Miles (Curlin). He was a dull sixth on the GIII Holy Bull S. and didn’t do much better when fifth, beaten 5 3/4 lengths by Tapit Trice in the Tampa Bay Derby. He looks like a 50-1 shot in the Derby.
Back at Keeneland, Another Big Win for the Computer Players
We’ve all seen it happen hundreds of times, the odds plunge on a horse after the gates open and the horse goes on to win. But it’s not something anyone should grow complacent about, not when the sport has no answer to the problem that is the computer players pouring huge sums into the pools at the very last second.
There was a glaring example of this Saturday at Keeneland in the GIII Commonwealth S. With the field loaded, eventual winner Here Mi Song (Cross Traffic) was 19-1. About five seconds after the field left the gate, his odds fell to 12-1. Then, 32 seconds after the start of the race, his odds changed again, falling to 11-1. He paid $25.60, yet I imagine any normal player who had a win bet on him felt more cheated than victorious.
It’s time for more tracks to do what NYRA did, which was to effectively ban the computer players from the win pools. That won’t keep them from pounding the other pools, but will take care of the problem of having their core customers grow irate every time a horse goes on to win after their odds plummeted after the race has started.
NY Horseplayers Shut Out Again on Easter
We’ve got the dumbest rule in horse racing for you. In New York on Easter, you can buy alcohol at a store or go to a bar. You can play the lottery, wager on pro sports and go to a casino. You can even go to the Resort’s World casino in Queens, which is under the same roof as Aqueduct. But you can’t bet on a horse.
It’s not just that the New York tracks can’t race on Easter. It’s that all betting on all racing is shut down. The ADW customer is not allowed to place a bet on any tracks anywhere. Like someone in the fourth at Gulfstream? Too bad.
This goes back to 1973 when Sunday racing was legalized in New York, but several politicians were opposed to this based on religious reasons. In order to pass Sunday racing, a compromise had to be reached and it included not allowing any betting on the ponies on Easter and Palm Sunday. In 2015, the Palm Sunday ban was lifted, but not the Easter ban. It lives on, as ridiculous as it is.