Tapit Trice, 1-2, proves prompt favorite in Tampa Bay Derby

Tapit Trice, 1-2, proves prompt favorite in Tampa Bay Derby
Photo: Carson Blevins / Eclipse Sportswire

With six horses ahead of him approaching the 1/8th pole of the Grade 3, $400,000 Tampa Bay Derby, 1-2 favorite Tapit Trice appeared likely to be responsible for a mountain of shredded pari-mutuel tickets.

The way things turned out, the fun was just getting started.

With jockey Luis Saez asking for his best, Tapit Trice delivered, pulling clear of a rallying Classic Legacy and overtaking Classic Car Wash for a two-length victory. Classic Car Wash held on for second, followed by Classic Legacy and Prairie Hawk.

The winner’s time for the 1 1/16-mile race on a fast track was 1:43.37.

“It took him a while to get on track but I was very impressed down the lane,” winning trainer Todd Pletcher said from his south Florida base. “He finished up the way we expected him to. He certainly seems like the farther he goes, the stronger he gets.

“He’s got a big, long stride, and once he got clear down the lane he really extended himself and I loved the way he finished up. Luis fits him well. He understands the way he needs to be ridden and he knows he’s not going to come out of the gate quickly. He gave him plenty of time to get going.”

The victory was the sixth in the race for Pletcher, more than any other conditioner.

The thrilling finish was the highlight of a Festival Day 43 card that kept a sun-splashed crowd of 6,023 thirsting for more. Total wagering handle on the 12-race card was $17,457,354, second only to last year’s Festival Day card in track history.

Tapit Trice, a son of the great sire Tapit out of the Dunkirk mare Danzatrice, improved to three for four with the victory in his stakes debut. He is owned by majority partner Whisper Hill Farm and Gainesway Stable, with its Gainesway Thoroughbreds division breeding the colt.

Saez, who had ridden him to victory in his previous start, an eight-length allowance-optional claiming victory at Gulfstream, knew patience was called for in the 12-horse field.

“The start was a little slow, but as soon as he started to get going, he got big-time position for us,” Saez said. “When the dirt started hitting him in the face, he was a little green. But at the half-mile pole, he got going.”

Did he ever.

Whisper Hill Farm owner Mandy Pope had doubts about Tapit Trice’s ability to come back from last in the 12-horse field. “I lost track of him in the race and thought he was never going to make it up, but once he got free he ate up the ground,” she said. “It was awesome – just the whole team from Whisper Hill Farm, Gainesway, Todd Pletcher – it takes a mountain of people to be in this position, but the horse is the one who did it.”

Other stakes races on the card

Three other graded stakes were contested on the card, with star jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. scoring victories in the Grade 2, $225,000 Hillsborough Stakes on the turf with 5-year-old mare Shantisara and in the Grade 3, $100,000 Challenger on the main track aboard 4-year-old colt Skippylongstocking.

In the Grade 3, $200,000 Florida Oaks on the turf, Mission of Joy staged a whirlwind rally under jockey Antonio Gallardo to post a neck victory from Alpha Bella. The other stakes on the card, the $75,000 Columbia for 3-year-olds on the turf, was won by Talk of the Nation, with Samy Camacho in the irons.

Tapit Trice picked up 50 “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points for his Tampa Bay Derby victory, guaranteeing him a spot in the Run for the Roses starting gate on May 6 if he continues to progress. Pletcher said the Blue Grass on April 8 at Keeneland could be a logical next step.

“I feel like he is still learning, though he got a good education today. But he’s a horse that I think still needs a little more racing experience to completely put everything together. If he trains accordingly, we’re going to take a strong look at the Blue Grass,” the trainer said.

Classic Car Wash picked up 20 points for his runner-up effort, improving on his third-place finish in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 11. Classic Legacy earned 15 points, with 10 going to Prairie Hawk and five to fifth-place finisher Lord Miles.

While Pletcher celebrates another Tampa Bay Derby victory, Chad Brown picked up his sixth Hillsborough trophy with the Irish-bred Shantisara, who posted a 1 1/4-length victory from pace-setter Scotish Star. Surprisingly, the winner of the Endeavour Stakes (G3), finished third.

The victory was the sixth from 13 starts for Shantisara, with first-place money of $120,000 boosting her earnings to $1,092,996.

Shantisara is owned in partnership by Michael Dubb, Madaket Stables and Robert V. LaPenta.

“I was really proud of Shantisara. With the slower pace, after she put herself closer, Irad really navigated her around the track perfectly,” said Brown, who had three starters in the seven-horse field. “It was an expert ride and a top performance from this filly.

“If we can keep this horse healthy, I’m pretty confident she can be one of the leaders in her division. The proof was her getting close to the stakes record of Tepin (1:47.14, .88 seconds off Tepin’s 2016 time).

Ortiz proved the master craftsman in the race, judging the pace expertly and keeping Shantisara within striking position.

In the Florida Oaks for 3-year-old fillies, Gallardo got a great response from Mission of Joy en route to his third consecutive victory on the H. Graham Motion-trained youngster. Motion had previously won the Florida Oaks with Dynamic Holiday in 2011, the first year the race was contested on the turf.

Mission of Joy’s time of 1:41.12 for the 1 1/16-mile grass race tied the stakes record set two years ago by Domain Expertise. RyZan Sun Racing and Madaket Stables own Mission of Joy.

“I thought she was super impressive and I thought Tony gave her a very cool ride,” Motion said via telephone. “He was very patient and she really did it impressively. She fought for it and she showed a lot of heart."

Runner-up Alpha Bella was 2 ½ lengths ahead of longshot Juniper’s Moon.

Skippylongstocking’s triumph in the Challenger continued his ascent up the handicap ranks. Since finishing third in last year’s Belmont Stakes, he had posted Grade 3 victories in the West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer and the Harlan’s Holiday Stakes at Gulfstream.

“We threw a pretty hard campaign at him last year, and he bounced back from it and is still in good form,” said Saffie A. Joseph, Jr., who trains Skippylongstocking for owner Daniel Alonso. “He looked pretty good the whole race and then at the top of the lane, the 5 (long-shot Surly Furious) shot through and it scared me. I was worried (Skippylongstocking) wasn’t going to kick in, but Irad knew what he had and gave him a perfect trip.”

Tax got up late for second, a head better than Surly Furious.

“This is a consistent, hard-trying horse,” Joseph said. “He’s probably not a true Grade 1 horse, but he’s a very good Grade 3, Grade 2 horse, and maybe one day he might get the Grade 1 win he deserves.”

In the $75,000 Columbia Stakes, for 3-year-olds at a mile on the turf, Talk of the Nation sat behind a lively pace by A Western Yarn and Mo Stash until midstretch, then unleashed a powerful late kick under jockey Samy Camacho to win by 2 1/2 lengths from Mo Stash. A Western Yarn lasted for third in the nine-horse field.

The victory was the third from four starts for Talk of the Nation, a son of Quality Road out of the Street Cry mare She’s Not Here. The winning time of 1:33.45 was 0.22 seconds off the stakes and course record set in the race two years ago by Winfromwithin. Talk of the Nation is owned by Joseph Allen and CHC Inc., and trained by Hall of Fame member Claude “Shug” McGaughey.

In Saturday's sixth race, first-time starter Dream Concert won for Gallardo and trainer Kathleen O’Connell, victory No. 2,385 in her career. That ties her with Kim Hammond for first among all female trainers in North American history.

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