Count jockey Junior Alvarado among those impressed with Tax's blistering half-mile work on Thursday in preparation for the Grade 1, $3 million Kentucky Derby.
Alvarado, who is set to make his third career Derby mount when he pilots Tax on May 4 at Churchill Downs, watched as Tax recorded a 47.80-second breeze, the fastest of 48 recorded works at the distance, over the Belmont Park training track.
“I thought it was great and I loved the way he started; it's really important when you're getting ready to ride a mile-and-a-quarter race that your horse can be in the bridle but won't try and run off,” Alvarado said from the Belmont jock's room Friday. “Coming down the lane, he has such a beautiful, long stride. I was paying attention to his gallop out and it was outstanding. He showed me everything I wanted to see. He did it nice and strong, pretty much on his own.”
Alvarado has ridden Tax twice, guiding him to a win by a head over Not That Brady in the Grade 3 Withers on February 2 at Aqueduct Racetrack and last out in the Wood Memorial when he was runner-up in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial presented by NYRA Bets on April 6 at the Big A.
With three straight races at 1 1/8 miles, the “Run for the Roses” will mark Tax's first start at 1 ¼ miles and will come against what is expected to be a full 20-horse field.
“He's a great gate horse. Even when he won with me, he stumbled and still had the ability to be near the lead. It helps,” Alvarado said. “When you go to a 20-horse field, having a horse who can break out of there and get you to a good position helps. It's very important and that's something that he's done with me.
“It doesn't matter what part of the race, when you need him to make a move, he's always there for you,” Alvarado said. “It's always quick. He's not a plodding horse who takes time to get going. He's pretty much a push-button horse. If you need to make a little move to get in a better spot, I know he'll be there for me.”
Tax, owned by R.A. Hill Stable, Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Hugh Lynch and Corms Racing Stable, has never finished off the board in five career starts, with a 2-2-1 record.
The Venezuelan native, who will turn 33 on May 20, said previous experience with the Triple Crown's opening leg is beneficial, as a crowd in excess of 150,000 people can unnerve even the most experienced riders.
“When I rode my first Derby, I was nervous the whole week leading up to the Derby. Now, I'm excited but definitely less nervous than the first time,” Alvarado said. “It's a little bit of an advantage to be more relaxed right now. The first time, the week before, I was overthinking a lot of things and how the race will develop. At that point, more than trying to win the race, you're thinking 'how could I mess up the race?' So many things start coming to your mind that shouldn't. You play it in your mind and messes with you a little bit. Right now, I don't feel the same way. I'm only excited; nervousness is behind me.”
Alvarado rode 70 winners during the Aqueduct winter meet – second only to leading rider Manny Franco's 98 victories – and said he's excited to continue that momentum at Belmont, which kicks off its 48-day spring/summer meet on Friday.
“I had a great winter meet and I stayed out of trouble injury-wise and I'm looking forward to Belmont and continuing that success,” Alvarado said. “I'll keep working hard and hopefully keep getting the same support from trainers and owners.”
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