One of the quotations of the great Roman historian Tacitus is most appropriate to racing: “As you go into battle, remember your ancestors and think upon your descendants.”
That sentiment is appropriate to the racehorse Tacitus, a son of three-time leading sire Tapit (by Pulpit) and of champion racemare Close Hatches, by First Defence. If horses were cogitating animals, Tacitus would have had a lot on his mind as he entered the gates for his third start in the March 9 running of the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby.
Instead, the gray colt's mind was focused on the matter at hand, and he earned further distinction for his ancestors with a victory by 1 ½ lengths in his stakes debut that brought the colt's record to a pair of successes from only three starts to date.
Bred in Kentucky by Juddmonte Farms, the colt is the first foal of his dam, who was the best racehorse by her sire, G1 winner First Defence, a son of leading sire Unbridled's Song and G1 winner Honest Lady (Seattle Slew). Close Hatches won five times at the G1 level, taking the Mother Goose, Cotillion, Ogden Phipps, Apple Blossom, and Personal Ensign.
To this point, Close Hatches has been the most illustrious of the good racers from Juddmonte's limited program of racing a minority of its Kentucky-foaled stock here in the States from the start of their careers. [Arrogate, while raced so successfully by Juddmonte, was purchased at auction.] This approach very nearly dates from Honest Lady, who was by Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew. Gifted on the racetrack and grand in the stud, Seattle Slew showed his best when allowed to use his speed and his stride to devastating effect, and his offspring, not surprisingly, preferred eating grass to racing on it.
As a result, when Juddmonte had a fetching filly by Seattle Slew out of their superb producer and racemare Toussaud (El Gran Senor), owner Prince Khalid Abdullah took the step of keeping her in training in California with Bobby Frankel, rather than sending the filly to begin her racing on the gentler terrain of Europe.
Honest Lady became one of her dam's four G1 winners (Empire Maker – Belmont Stakes; Chester House – Arlington Million; Chiselling – Secretariat Stakes), and the highly tested mare (second in the Metropolitan Handicap and in the Breeders' Cup Sprint against colts) has produced three stakes winners to date.
Honest Lady's son, First Defence, won the G1 Forego at Saratoga, and finished second in the G1 King's Bishop. He went to stud at Juddmonte Farm in Kentucky, and Close Hatches and her full sister Lockdown (stakes winner and second in the G1 Mother Goose, third in the G1 Cotillion and Kentucky Oaks) were the best of that stallion's American progeny.
So it's not a surprise that the first foal out of Close Hatches, Tacitus, has followed the same pattern of an entirely American career. Furthermore, his victory in the Tampa Bay Derby earned him 50 points for eligibility to race in the Kentucky Derby, and what owner would not have that possibility on the calendar after the colt's brave display in coming between horses and finishing his race well in only his third start?
The prospects of attempting the Kentucky Derby are daunting for lightly raced young athletes such as Tacitus, and further racing will clarify whether the colt is better suited to racing longer distances. The next start for Tacitus is expected to be the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 6.
A victory there would surely propel the colt into the thick of consideration for the Derby, and there are Derby horses abounding among his ancestors. These include Triple Crown winners Seattle Slew and Secretariat, English Triple Crown winner Nijinsky, and Belmont Stakes winner A.P. Indy, as well as Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Native Dancer. Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled appears twice in the pedigree of Tacitus, in the third generation as broodmare sire of Tapit, and in the fourth generation as the sire of Unbridled's Song.
As we ponder the prospects of classic colts, ere they march into classic battle, it is good to consider their ancestors. For those colts who succeed in the grand endeavor, success is good, for they will have descendants.
Frank Mitchell is author of Racehorse Breeding Theories, as well as the book Great Breeders and Their Methods: The Hancocks. In addition to writing the column “Sires and Dams” in Daily Racing Form for nearly 15 years, he has contributed articles to Thoroughbred Daily News, Thoroughbred Times, Thoroughbred Record, International Thoroughbred, and other major publications. In addition, Frank is chief of biomechanics for DataTrack International and is a hands-on caretaker of his own broodmares and foals in Central Kentucky. Check out Frank's lively Bloodstock in the Bluegrass blog.
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