With his upset victory in Saturday's Grade II, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, 3-year-old colt Tacitus vaulted into a tie for third place in the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” standings with 50 points, assuring his eligibility for the 145th Run for the Roses on May 4 at Churchill Downs.
Under jockey Jose Ortiz, the gray Juddmonte Farms homebred toured the mile-and-a-sixteenth distance over the main Tampa Bay Downs track in 1:41.90, bettering the previous stakes standard of 1:42.36 set by Tapwrit (also with Ortiz in the irons) in 2017 and only .15 seconds off the track record.
Second-place Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby finisher Outshine picked up 20 points and is tied for eighth. Both the third-place finisher Saturday, Win Win Win, and Grade III Sam F. Davis winner Well Defined, who finished eighth, are tied for 17th with 10 points (ties are broken by non-restricted stakes earnings, technically placing Tacitus fourth, Outshine 10th, Well Defined 19th and Win Win Win 23rd).
The top 20 point-getters earn an automatic berth in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. Here are the current top 10 and their points:
War of Will, 60; Code of Honor, 54; Haikal, 50; Tacitus, 50; Game Winner, 30; Mind Control, 30; Bourbon War, 21; Somelikeithotbrown, 20; Country House, 20; Outshine, 20.
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott said this afternoon that Tacitus came out of the race in good shape and is likely to make his next start in one of three races: the Grade II Wood Memorial on April 6 at Aqueduct, the Grade II Toyota Blue Grass on April 6 at Keeneland or the Grade I Arkansas Derby on April 13 at Oaklawn Park. All are at a distance of a mile-and-an-eighth.
“He's run in New York (twice), so it's very possible we could go there,” Mott said.
Mott, who also conditions Grade II Risen Star Stakes presented by Lamarque Ford runner-up Country House and the well-regarded Hidden Scroll, fourth in the Grade II Xpressbet Fountain of Youth, is confident Tacitus has the ability and makeup to keep improving and expects him to benefit from Saturday's experience, only his third career start and first since breaking his maiden on Nov. 10 at Aqueduct.
“He stepped up to the plate, and it looked like he has moved forward from his 2-year-old year,” Mott said today. “He has certainly matured and is going in the right direction.
“The stakes record was a good thing and I think Tampa was a good place for him to get a race in. It's a good, safe racetrack and that should be a good conditioner for him.”
In the winner's circle late Saturday afternoon, Mott reflected on how far Tacitus has come since finishing fourth in his career debut on Oct. 4 going a mile-and-a-sixteenth at Belmont.
“We really didn't know what we had until we got into September and started putting a little more pressure on him and asking him, and I said, well, we've got to find out, let's ask him the question, and he started to respond,” Mott said. “The tougher the training got, the better he got.
“Then we got two races in him and got a win out of him in the fall, and for the size of horse he is and the type of horse he is, I thought it was a big accomplishment to get that completed that early in the season.”
Although the 50 points is certain to qualify him for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, Mott left no question Tacitus will race at least once more leading to Louisville.
“He's got to run. This horse is a big, tough horse, and if we had to, we could run him twice more (before the Kentucky Derby), but with this win under his belt maybe that won't be necessary. We'll keep all the options open,” Mott added.
Mott sent out Tacitus for a 1–mile-plus gallop Saturday morning, which he described as “kind of routine.
“We had shipped up (Friday), and I thought that was a good opportunity for him to get a feel for the track,” he said.
A product of Juddmonte Farms' topnotch breeding program, Tacitus is a son of the outstanding sire Tapit, and the first foal out of Close Hatches, whom Mott trained to five Grade I victories and a 2014 Eclipse Award as Champion Older Mare. Close Hatches, in turn, is by Juddmonte's Grade I winner First Defence.
“We've always felt that as the distances increase, that should be beneficial to him,” Mott said of Tacitus' pedigree influences.
Both Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Outshine, and Michael Trombetta, the conditioner of Win Win Win, plan to keep their horses on the Kentucky Derby trail. Pletcher said in a text message the Wood Memorial is the next likely race for Outshine, while Trombetta probably will choose between the Wood Memorial and the Toyota Blue Grass.
Those races, along with the Grade II TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby on March 23 at Fair Grounds; the Grade I Xpressbet.com Florida Derby on March 30 at Gulfstream; the Grade I Santa Anita Derby on April 6 at Santa Anita; and the Arkansas Derby, offer 100-40-20-10 points to the first four finishers, so even a fourth-place finish can go a long way toward getting into the Kentucky Derby starting gate.
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