An old saying goes, 'It's better to be lucky than good'. It's clear by his five starts this year that Juddmonte Farms' Tacitus is definitely good, but in his most recent two outings, he has been anything but lucky.
A wide trip in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets and a stumbled start in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy presented by NYRA Bets at Saratoga last out could have cost the well-bred Tapit gray victories in both starts, but Saturday's Grade 1 Runhappy Travers is a great opportunity to rise in the 3-year-old division.
Following the Jim Dandy, Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott decided to train Tacitus in blinkers, including his last two works heading into the “Mid-Summer Derby.”
“He's had two pretty hard-luck races in a row,” said Juddmonte Farms general manager Garrett O'Rourke. “Deep down, Bill figured there was no reason not to make the change. It won't do any harm, but we hope that this is a horse that's just had a couple of bad breaks in consecutive races. With maturity and getting stronger and older, I think the horse probably will get better to where, I'm not sure he would need the blinkers, but going into this race you're going to take every edge that you can.”
Mott previously stated that Tacitus was a bit fatigued in the final furlong of the Jim Dandy, where he made a late bid to the inside of eventual winner Tax, finishing three-quarters of a length short.
“To say that he got fatigued in the last furlong I think is fair,” O'Rourke said. “But most horses that stumble that badly at the start, for whatever reason, they just fade at the top of the stretch. He fought bravely to the wire but didn't have enough left in the tank at the finish. I would have to say that cost him quite a few lengths.”
Tacitus' pedigree carries five generations of Juddmonte's prestigious legacy. He is out of 2014 Champion Older Filly Close Hatches whose respective dam, grand dam and great grand dam are Rising Tornado, Silver Star and Monroe. In addition, Tacitus is an indirect descendant of prolific Juddmonte broodmare Toussad who produced his dam sire Honest Lady as well as prolific stallion Empire Maker, who was by another prominent sire in Unbridled.
O'Rourke said he sees plenty of Unbridled's traits in Tacitus.
“I think that horses from the Unbridled line are pretty unique,” O'Rourke said. “They don't like to be stopped where you have to move around. They're better off getting those 12s one following another. If he can get that big line stride going and not get it interrupted, you haven't seen the best Tacitus performance yet and I hope we see it. That's definitely an Unbridled type performance.”
O'Rourke said he looks forward to being able to one day see Tacitus go to stud.
“He couldn't be bred any better,” O'Rourke said. “I think everyone appreciates that when they look at a pedigree and see that you're the first foal out of a champion mare, inbred to Unbridled and by the best dirt stallion around,” O'Rourke said. “He physically resembles Unbridled but also same color as Tapit and has a lot of Tapit traits in him. The chances of him becoming a tremendously sought after stallion is something that really excites us.”
Juddmonte seeks a second victory in the Travers after a memorable victory with record-setting Arrogate in 2016.
“For anyone that has a tremendous love for American dirt racing, this race is right up there,” O'Rourke said. “It's unique to have the Mid-Summer Derby as the summer race that decides if there are any doubts as far as who the elite horse is. The Travers is always a decider., It's a true classic distance race and if you look at the winners, it's a who's who of magnificent horses. To put your name underneath all of them is something that every top breeder and owner would be delighted to have their horses associated with.”
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