Kentucky Derby trail: How is Tapit Trice a different closer?

Kentucky Derby trail: How is Tapit Trice a different closer?
Photo: Carson Blevins / Eclipse Sportswire

This is a follow-up on the discussion of Tapit Trice’s win in the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby last weekend and a further explanation of why his closing style might bring him problems in the Kentucky Derby with a 20-horse field.

As described earlier, Tapit Trice has a slow-breaking habit, which does not work well with 19 other horses around him. He might recover from a slow break in a normal field, but more horses will make it harder.

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Even when Tapit Trice recovers, he still runs more like a slow train with a tremendous high speed. Although Tapit Trice gradually moves up on the backside, he tends to stall on the far turn while under a ride. Then, his final “blow” to his opponents comes in the last quarter, a pattern that even showed in his Gulfstream optional claiming win Feb. 4 and his maiden-breaking win at Aqueduct on Dec. 17.

At Gulfstream, Tapit Trice started slowly as usual. Regardless, the slow pace combined with the moderate field size allowed him to recover more quickly and sit closer to the leaders. On the turn, Tapit Trice moved alongside his stablemate Shesterkin to challenge him, but Luis Saez noticeably still needed to work on Tapit Trice to take it even further. 

Saez encouraged his mount by shaking the reins before also taking out the crop. Tapit Trice eventually responded, but he seemed lazy. 

Tapit Trice exploded in the last quarter and won by eight lengths, although the weakness of the field played a part in the margin.  

What if better horses along with a larger field and faster pace are added to the equation? In the Tampa Bay Derby, Tapit Trice started slow again and lagged near the back in the first quarter.

Tapit Trice gradually moved into position on the backside. Saez needed to work on Tapit Trice around the turn again, this time with far more urgency than in the Gulfstream optional-claiming race as he laid farther back. Saez took out the crop at the top of the stretch once more and struck Tapit Trice harder than he did at Gulfstream.

From ninth place at the top of the stretch and a wide position, Tapit Trice responded and erased the four to five lengths in a short amount of time and prevail over Classic Car Wash by two lengths.  

Notice how the faster pace and larger amount of entries resulted in Tapit Trice needing to work harder to recover from the break and make up more ground. From there, Tapit Trice's ability to move up slightly on the backside and hit high speed in the last quarter resulted in him prevailing, but it took him forever to start that engine.

For a 2-5 shot, Tapit Trice made it too close with his two-part style, which involves grinding on the turn and making a high-speed move in the final moments. At those odds, Tapit Trice is supposed to win by a big margin.

How many more lengths will Tapit Trice need to make up in the stretch run of the Kentucky Derby, and how many horses will he need to pass to make that run? Also, how will Tapit Trice react if another horse in the 20-horse field bumps him as he starts the engine in mid-stretch? 

The main point is that Tapit Trice brings a unique style as a closer. For an extreme contrast, Tapit Trice and Mine That Bird both are closers, but they do not resemble each other at all in terms of how Tapit Trice closes now and how Mine That Bird made his closing moves when he won the Kentucky Derby and ran second in the Preakness to Rachel Alexandra. 

The way Tapit Trice wins is more reminiscent of a successful synthetic closer such as Zenyatta, who moved similar to a slow-moving train who picked up tremendous speed, rather than a nimble-footed dirt closer. Not all closing-style runners are built the same, even if they come from the the same position. Some of those horses can stop and go, while others cannot. Tapit Trice needs to grind and pick up momentum late. 

On that point, Tapit Trice has enjoyed the ability to move in the clear or wide on the far turn in his three wins. When Tapit Trice traveled directly behind horses in his career debut Nov. 6 at Aqueduct, he looked defeated on the far turn before moving up once the openings appeared. 

Even though Tapit Trice rallied mildly through the pack, he finished third.

In terms of winning margins, Tapit Trice’s best effort came in that Gulfstream race with a slow pace. He already locked into the leader Shesterkin on the turn because of the pace and little traffic, and then Tapit Trice put him away in the stretch with his devastating final move.

But in the Kentucky Derby, it is hard to imagine Tapit Trice converting into a stalker or a mid-pack closer. He moves too slowly out of the gate.

With 19 other horses and a faster pace ahead of him, Tapit Trice probably will start last and find it harder to recover into a reasonable position with all the traffic around him. Tapit Trice probably will need to make up more ground on the far turn, which makes it harder to win. 

Based on the Aqueduct race, drawing inside in a 20-horse field might also result in a terrible effort from Tapit Trice. If the traffic does not hinder his rally, then the dirt kickback could discourage his usual move. 

Of course, Tapit Trice could overcome the Derby trip as a good horse and still mow them down. Maybe he can find a path outside even if he starts inside. But it always helps to have the ability to adapt and use different strategies to win, as a 20-horse field could derail plans. If Tapit Trice can only rally from the outside, then he is one-dimensional.

Even with all that said, Tapit Trice's slow-breaking habit and high likelihood of starting from the rear will not prevent him from winning most Grade 1 dirt routes with a moderate field size as long as he fires. 

But there is a misunderstanding that all deep-closing horses are the same. When it comes to Tapit Trice, he brings a unique closing style to the division, and one that probably does not adapt well to cutting through the heart of the field and maneuvering around other horses. Nevertheless, he still offers plenty of talent. 

Meet Reinier Macatangay

My first time at the racetrack came as a 5-year-old kid at Santa Anita Park. For most of my younger life, that was the only track I attended other the occasional visit to Hollywood Park. 

Years later, after graduating California State University, Stanislaus with an English MA, I began writing for Lady and the Track. From late 2014-2016, my articles were seen on a weekly basis and covered handicapping, interviews with well-known racing personalities, fashion and more. 

The handicapping style I use concentrates on pace analysis. Some horses are compromised by the pace. Others are helped. Handicappers just starting out cannot easily see how pace affects the finish, so with this blog, I hope to help those unsure of how to apply pace into their handicapping and post-race analysis. 

On an unrelated note, I enjoy video games and attending anime or comic-book conventions. I am currently based in Kentucky, but spend a lot of time traveling between there and California.

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