Juddmonte homebred Tacitus put in a big effort in Saturday's G2 Wood Memorial, out-finishing Withers winner Tax down the lane to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Favored at 5-2 in the field of 11 sophomores off his triumph in the Tampa Bay Derby, the Tapit colt completed nine furlongs over Aqueduct's main track in 1:51.23. Trained by Bill Mott, Tacitus was ridden to victory by jockey Jose Ortiz. The win earned the colt 100 additional points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
Tax had to settle for second, while Haikal got rolling late and outfinished Math Wizard for third. Not That Brady finished fifth after setting a rapid early pace.
Tacitus was involved in traffic problems in the clubhouse turn, which resulted in a stewards' inquiry and the disqualification of seventh-place finisher Joevia to last.
“It's not a surprise, but you always hope they show up,” Mott said. “He's a young horse and you never know what's going to happen in any race. Some horses would have been discouraged with what happened on the first turn. They could have backed out of it or decide they didn't want any part of it after getting roughed up like that.”
Breaking from the far outside post in the 11-horse field, Joevia was quick into stride and cut all the way over to the rail. He joined Not That Brady in a battle for the lead, but not before setting in motion a traffic jumble in which Not That Brady had to take back, causing both Tacitus and Overdeliver to have to take up sharply.
From there, Joevia and Not That Brady battled for the lead through rapid fractions of :23.62 and :46.91, stretching as far as seven lengths away from Tax in third position. Tacitus was fourth, about two lengths behind Tax down the backstretch.
After three-quarters in 1:11.46, both Tax and Tacitus began to catch up with the frontrunners. Joevia was the first to give way, and Tax took over from Not That Brady at the top of the stretch.
Ortiz and Tacitus crowded Tax a bit against the inside rail in the final eighth of a mile, but Tacitus pulled away in the final 100 yards to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Tax was not disgraced in second, while Gotham winner Haikal got up for third. Math Wizard was fourth, followed by Not That Brady.
Bred in Kentucky by his owner, Tacitus is out of champion Close Hatches. His record now stands at three wins from four starts with earnings of $653,000.
“He does take after his dam [Close Hatches],” Mott said. “She was ready from the word 'go'.
She was one that was very aggressive and very fast. He's a little different type of horse. She was good up to a mile, a mile and an eighth. This horse, with the Tapit genes, seems like he's willing to go on, but he also seems to have enough speed to get him up and involved early in a race. He's certainly not a speed horse, but he has tactical speed and we know he's got talent and we know he's willing to overcome a little adversity.”
It was Mott's first Wood win, and the trainer will now be seeking his first career Derby victory and second in a Classic, joining 2010 Belmont Stakes-winner Drosselmeyer.
“I thought it was a very good effort,” Mott said. “It was very rough on the first turn, but fortunately he came out of it in good order. When he got down the backside, I thought he had a nice, clear run by himself. He kind of got his feet back under him and regrouped a little bit. When it was time to run he started to wear them down.”
“We've been there [to the Kentucky Derby] five times now and came out of them all with our tail between our legs,” said Garrett O'Rourke, racing manager of Juddmonte Farm. “We had two good runs, a huge disappointment with Empire Maker [second, 2003], because he was the horse that I felt was the best horse in the field and should have won. But it's not easy and we know that, so were going to go into it again knowing that it's not easy.
“We have a legitimate contender now that's bred to be a Derby horse and he's now proving that, hopefully, he is up to that standard.”
Tax, owned by R.A. Hill Stable, Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Hugh Lynch and Corms Racing Stable, closed 2 ¾ lengths in front of Haikal for second, earning 40 qualifying points. The Danny Gargan trainee has 72 points after winning the Grade 2 Withers [10 points] on February 2 and third [two points] in the Grade 2 Remsen on December 1. All three of Tax's Derby prep races have come at Aqueduct.
“He ran huge. The horses laying up close all day have been running really well,” Gargan said. “I told Junior [Alvarado], let's just break out of there and get a good position. I didn't want to take back. Let's make them run into the first turn and make your move turning for home. If we get run down, it's okay. I don't mind running second today, I just wanted to make sure we got enough Derby points to get in. We might have moved a little early today, but we get to go to Louisville, Kentucky now.”
Shadwell Stable's Haikal upped his point total to 70, following a 50-point boon for his Grade 3 Gotham win on March 9 for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. Haikal, 3-1-1 in five career starts, beat out Math Wizard by a half-length for third.
“We ran very well. Obviously, his first time around two turns he finished strong. He might do better with a little faster pace, but that could happen if we go to the Derby,” McLaughlin said. “You never know, two turns and the distance, it was a good answer – he answered the questions. He ran very well. He can do the distance. I don't know yet (about going to the Kentucky Derby). We'll talk to the owner.”
Not That Brady, Final Jeopardy, Hoffa's Union, Grumps Little Tots, Outshine and Overdeliver completed the order of finish. Joevia, who had finished seventh, was disqualified and placed last for interference stemming from the start.
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