Kentucky Derby 2019 Daily: Tax going from claim to fame

February 05, 2019 04:27pm

Welcome to Horse Racing Nation’s Kentucky Derby Daily, which will each day leading up to the May 4 race at Churchill Downs detail all the news and notes related to contenders in one convenient space.

Tax season, as it turns out, started last September for trainer Danny Gargan, and the returns have been strong.

OK, that’s all for the puns. We promise.

But Gargan did delve into how he acquired the Withers Stakes (G3) winner and 2019 Kentucky Derby hopeful shortly after last weekend’s race, from which the numbers appear strongest of the three preps run coast to coast.

When Tax ran second on debut Sept. 29 for then-trainer Ben Colebrook, Gargan took note. But he was thinking the gelding looked more like a route runner on grass than a Derby hopeful.

“I was watching Churchill races, because I’m always looking for dirt horse because we race here in the winter,” Gargan said from Aqueduct.

“…The horse interested me because I knew the family — great, well-bred horse,” he added with Tax a son of Arch out of a Giant’s Causeway mare. “He’s Claiborne-bred. I’m lucky enough to claim one of those horses, not lucky enough to train one.”

Then Tax appeared Oct. 21 in the claiming ranks again.

“He’s such a big, strong horse,” Gargan said. “I watched his replays when he ran the first time out and I put him in stable mail and he popped up in for ($50,000). So I said, ‘We’ve got to take a shot.’”

Tax won that day, then made his debut for new connections in much deeper waters. He ran third behind Maximus Mischief and Network Effect in the Remsen Stakes (G2) as a 17-1 shot.

The horse wasn’t originally nominated for that spot, but fellow New York trainer Kiaran McLaughlin saw some of the same potential in Tax as Gargan, telling him, ‘You’ve got to take a chance and run this horse.”

Tax had just breezed a bullet half mile at Belmont Park. Gargan remembers McLaughlin saying, “He worked like a monster today. You need to run.” Connections supplemented, and that led to the Derby trail.

For his Withers Stakes effort at 1 1/8 miles -- this time as a 2-1 favorite -- Tax registered a 96 Beyer Speed Figure, fastest of any 3-year-old running last Saturday. The number compared quite favorably to Robert B. Lewis winner Mucho Gusto’s 91 and Holy Bull (G2) hero Harvey Wallbanger’s 85.

Screener says…

Mike Shutty, author of Horse Racing Nation’s Super Screener handicapping system, also lauded Tax in his post-race analysis, saying, “No 3 year-old submitted a better Derby prep running line on this day than did Tax.”

Shutty handicaps using Brisnet Speed Ratings, for which Tax received the best early (94) and middle (103) numbers in addition to his final figure (102). Mucho Gusto and Harvey Wallbanger both received a 95 final Brisnet Speed Ratings.

“Tax dominated all other pace/speed slots and earned this going 1 1/8 miles versus the 1 1/16 miles traveled by the other pair,” Shutty said. “… He was actually much closer to the pace than expected, as the Tpo 3 finishers duked it out with one another throughout.

“Tax got whacked against the rail mid-stretch but recovered quickly to get back into gear, take the lead back and hold on gamely for the win.”

Shutty touted Harvey Wallbanger as a top longshot choice, but wasn’t necessarily thinking of that one as a Holy Bull winner.

This was a classic pace collapse race, so give credit to Maximus Mischief and Epic Dreamer,” he said, “as they did all of the work up front yet held on to finish third and fourth, respectively.”

Even with Mucho Gusto’s Robert B. Lewis score — his second career victory in Grade 3 company — Shutty labeled him as “clearly a (Bob) Baffert third-stringer.” Unbeaten Game Winner and Improbable are the leaders there.

As for the runner-up, “hard to knock Gunmetal Gray, as he was up against it here from both a pace and track surface perspective,” Shutty said. “If he makes it to the Kentucky Derby, he is looking like a Battle of Midway or Instilled Regard type of bomber long shot that completes the exotics.”

Derby links

 Pool 2 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager is set to run Friday through Sunday, and this first round of betting in the new year includes a number of new names. The expected favorite, however, is still “All Other 3-Year-Olds.”

 Columnist Laura Pugh graded out last weekend’s Derby and Oaks preps, and consider her another fan of Tax’s effort when compared to his counterparts in Florida and California.

 Bryan Brinkmeyer runs down his list of what we learned on the Derby trail, rounding out the piece with a glance at the current Top 20 in points.

In case you missed it…

Monday’s Derby Daily report provided an early look ahead to fields for Saturday’s Sam F. Davis (G3) and Sunday’s San Vicente (G2).


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Horse Racing Nation's Kentucky Derby daily blog counts down to the May 4, 2019, race at Churchill Downs with a once-a-day update on all things Derby. Get the latest news and chatter, workout reports and a look at fields for upcoming preps all in once place.

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