Fifteen years ago, a light gray colt who would become the country’s leading sire ran the race of his life in the Wood Memorial. On Saturday, so did Tapit’s gray son.
Even before he swept four-wide into the stretch under Jose Ortiz and passed exhausted front-runner Not That Brady, Tacitus had overcome a lot. But after being banged around at the start and again entering the first turn and then erasing a seven-length deficit on the backstretch, Tacitus still had more to do. He had plenty left, taking a narrow lead at the eighth pole and edging away to a 1¼-length victory over Tax at Aqueduct.
His trainer, 65-year-old Hall of Famer Bill Mott, is 0-for-8 in the Kentucky Derby, and no son of Tapit has won it, either. Tacitus may be the low-key Mott’s best chance to end those streaks.
“I thought he ran very well,“ Mott said. “[Joevia] crossed over and sawed everybody off, and Tacitus was lucky he didn’t lose his feet. Then he had to run down the leader. He showed he could handle a bit of adversity, and you need to be able to handle anything in the Derby.”
Joevia’s erratic move under Nik Juarez created chaos for about half the field – Equibase’s chart notes called it “severe crowding” -- and led to a 10-minute stewards’ inquiry. Joevia was disqualified from seventh and placed last, and Mott said, “I’m sure the stewards will have something to say to the rider.”
Gotham winner Haikal ran third, 2¾ lengths behind Tax, ahead of Math Wizard, Not That Brady, Final Jeopardy, Joevia, Hoffa’s Union, Grumps Little Tots, Outshine and Overdeliver.
Tacitus paid $7.20 as the favorite after 1 1/8 miles in 1:51.23 on a very deep track. He’s won three straight after finishing fourth in his October debut. He earned $400,000, raising his total to $653,000 for owner-breeder Juddmonte Farms, an international superpower also looking for its first Derby victory.
“We’ve been there five times and came out of them all with our tail between our legs,” said Garrett O’Rourke, Juddmonte’s racing manager. “We’re going into it again knowing it’s not easy.”
Danny Gargan, Tax’s trainer, also plans to go, and Kiaran McLaughlin was very pleased with Haikal’s first try around two turns. Guaranteeing themselves Derby spots Saturday were Bob Baffert’s duo of Roadster and Game Winner, 1-2, respectively, in the Santa Anita Derby, and Blue Grass Stakes hero Vekoma.
Tapit couldn’t handle the slop or undefeated Smarty Jones and ran ninth in the 2004 Derby. After the Wood, he never won, but his early brilliance at stud led to matings with some of the world’s best mares. Among them is Close Hatches, a Juddmonte star trained by Mott and the mother of Tacitus.
“I believe Tacitus will get a mile and a quarter,” Mott said, “so he might be the right one. We knew he had the talent to get a mile and an eighth. He’s a young horse, and you never know what’s going to happen in any race. You hope they show up, but you never know.”