The Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial presented by NYRA Bets winner Tacitus was no worse for wear the morning after his triumphant run in the final Kentucky Derby qualifier at Aqueduct Racetrack.
On the first Saturday in May, Tacitus will seek to give Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott and owner Juddmonte Farms their first victory in the “Run for the Roses.”
Tacitus managed to overcome an unfavorable trip in the early stages of the Wood, when jockey Jose Ortiz was forced to check during the first turn of the race.
“He came out of it very well,” said Mott's assistant Leana Willaford. “He was a little tired, but that's to be expected. It's nice to see him overcome [an unfavorable trip]. He'll go back to the track here in three days and we'll train him lightly and send him over there when Bill gets to Churchill.”
The son of Tapit, out of 2014 Champion Older Filly Close Hatches, picked up 100 points toward the Derby with Saturday's victory and is currently atop the leaderboard with 150 points. He garnered 50 points with his stakes debut in last month's Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby.
Willaford noted the conformational improvement that Tacitus, who debuted at Belmont in October and graduated in November at the Big A, has made over time.
“He was down here from July until he broke his maiden and he's changed a lot from July,” Willaford said. “Then to not see him over the course of the winter, he's matured a ton. He's definitely filling out. He still has some more growing to do, he's only three. He's a big old horse.”
Willaford recalled having worked with Close Hatches.
“I used to get on that mare all the time,” Willaford said. “She was more amped up than Tacitus. He's actually really laid back. She was a little bit more of a handful.”
Tax came out of his runner-up effort in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial presented by NYRA Bets in good order and remains on track for a potential start in the 'Run for the Roses' next month, trainer Danny Gargan said Sunday morning.
The Arch gelding, owned by R.A. Hill Stable, Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Hugh Lynch and Corms Racing Stable, earned 40 points after running 1 ¼ lengths behind Tacitus in the Wood's 95th edition. Tax has 52 points on the Derby leaderboard, the 12th-highest total, and has never finished off the board in five career starts, posting a 2-2-1 record.
Tax ended his sophomore campaign running second to Maximus Mischief in the Grade 2 Remsen on December 1 and edged Not That Brady by a head to win the Grade 3 Withers [earning 10 points] on February 2 at Aqueduct. With three straight races at 1 1/8 miles, Gargan said his charge has improved and matured as he got older.
“Everything was good this morning,” Gargan said. “I thought he ran a tremendous race and can move forward off that effort. His last three races, he's improved tremendously. He learned a lot in the Remsen and then he moved forward in the Withers. We gave him almost nine weeks between those races, and yesterday, he showed up.
“He got a little tired and got pushed down on the rail late, which was a little dead. But it was his first race in a while. I think we're set to move forward off this now. The goal all along was the Derby. That's why we passed on the Gotham. It was a [risk] to only run twice because with these point systems, you have to run well every time if you aren't running [often]. We were lucky enough to win one prep and do well in another. To pass on a race in between, it was a gamble, but it's going to pay off in the long run.”
Tax, under jockey Junior Alvarado, bested potential Derby contender Haikal by 2 ¾ lengths. He earned a 95 Beyer Speed Figure for the effort. With a Classic field without a clear-cut favorite, Gargan said the potential is there for a slew of talented 3-year-olds to make an impact.
“He breaks good out of the gate. If he breaks good, he can sit forwardly placed. He can also sit in the middle of the pack, he's a cool horse that way,” Gargan said. “If everything goes as planned and we get to the Derby, we have a chance. His numbers line him up with anyone. As of now, there doesn't seem to be any Justify in there or any monsters. No one has really been better than anyone else yet. So, we're just hoping to get blessed and get a good trip.”
Gargan said Peter Callahan's Sir Ballantine, who finished sixth in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap, will drop down in class for his next start.
Sir Ballantine made his stakes debut in his 21st career start in the seven-furlong Carter, but Gargan said he was surprised by the slower early fractions of 23.61 seconds for the quarter-mile and the half in 46.71. Sir Ballantine, off at 35-1, stayed off the pace, chased and tired late.
“I was expecting them to go 44-in-change and they didn't do it,” Gargan said of the Carter's pace. “He's a nice horse. We'll just go back to allowance competition. I figured it was going to be a really fast pace [yesterday], but Jason Servis' horse [World of Trouble, the winner] ran really well rated. They went slower [fractions] than I expected. It didn't work out that way, so we'll put him back in an allowance, that's where he belongs. We just gave him a chance to see if he could go at the next level, but it didn't work out for him.”
Following a late-closing third-place effort in the Wood Memorial, Shadwell Stable's Haikal will more than likely ship to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby for his next start, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said.
The sophomore son of Daaher was placed at the back of the pack toward the rail and was asked by jockey Rajiv Maragh coming around the far turn. He found top gear nearing the eighth pole and made up considerable ground to finish third, beaten by four lengths.
Haikal earned 20 points after Saturday's effort, his first start since the Grade 3 Gotham win on March 9 over the Big A main track where he earned 50 points. He is currently seventh on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard.
“He came out of the race in good shape,” McLaughlin said. “I still have to talk to [Shadwell Farms' Racing Manager] Rick Nichols. I think [we'll point to the Derby] we've been texting back and forth, but I just want to talk to him and make sure. I would assume we're pointing that way. He ran very well, he finished the fastest last quarter and we just needed another furlong.”
Haikal's sire, Daaher, was a Grade 1 winner over one mile when he took Aqueduct's Cigar Mile in 2008, but McLaughlin said Haikal appears to be a horse that will appreciate some added distance.
“That's his sire, you can't really go by that,” McLaughlin said. “He's a really neat horse and he can go all day. He came out of the race in good shape and ran very well. All systems are go.”
All five of Haikal's career starts have taken place at the Big A. After a second-out maiden win on December 15, he won the seven-furlong Jimmy Winkfield Stakes on February 9 before taking the Gotham.
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