Juddmonte Farm homebred Tacitus, the Tapit first son of champion Close Hatches, provided an 8-1 upset in Saturday's G2 Tampa Bay Derby to give trainer Bill Mott another prospective candidate for the first Saturday in May. Ridden by Jose Ortiz, the sophomore colt parlayed a rail-skimming ride to win by about a length in stakes-record time, completing 1 1/16 miles over the fast main track in 1:41.90. Tacitus' win earned him his first 50 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
“We've always liked this horse and thought he could be a horse that would be on the (Kentucky) Derby trail,” Mott said. “I liked him a lot better today at the 3/8 pole than I did at the 5/8 pole, because it looked like when he was trying to get between horses, I couldn't tell if he was maybe fighting with the racetrack. He was climbing a little bit but once he got through between those horses, he really got some confidence and got some momentum. Jose said he actually finished with something left. He got to the lead and maybe started to dog it a little bit, but I thought it was a very good race and a very good education for him.”
Post-time favorite at 7-5, Win Win Win finished third behind runner-up Outshine.
As expected, Zenden shot from his outside post to take the lead with pressure from Sam Davis winner Well Defined through fractions of :22.79 and :45.85. There were about three lengths behind those two frontrunners back to Outshine traveling in third, and another five-length gap back to Admire, Dunph, and the large gray Tacitus as the field turned down the backstretch.
Ortiz had to start motivating Tacitus at nearly the half-mile pole, getting a steady response from the colt as the field rounded the far turn. Zenden had opened up a bit after Well Defined dropped out, but Ortiz and Tacitus were making up ground as they angled to the two-path to go around Admire at the quarter pole.
With clear running to the wire, Tacitus took command in the final eighth of a mile to earn his first graded stakes victory by just over a length. Outshine continued on through the wire to finish second, while the late bid from Win Win Win was enough to nip Zenden for the show.
“He broke very well and gave me a lot of choices by the first turn,” said Ortiz. “When the 9 horse (Dunph) went out, I decided to go in and follow the 1 (Admire) because I thought he had a good chance to win. I took a lot (of dirt), but the dirt doesn't stick as much here as some other tracks, so I think it was good for my horse. He's a little green still but we got a rail trip and it opened up for us. He's a big horse and when he made the lead, he didn't keep going; he kind of waited a little bit. He does everything so easy and I don't know if he's given me 100 percent yet – I don't think so.”
Bred in Kentucky by his owner, Tacitus is out of the 2014 Eclipse Award-winning champion older mare Close Hatches. He finished fourth on debut in October, but broke his maiden in his second start at Aqueduct by a neck. The Tampa Bay Derby was his 2019 debut, and brings the colt's career record to two wins from three starts for earnings of over $280,000.
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