By: Eric Solomon
HOW HE GOT HERE
He’ll be making his 6th career start when he goes postward in the Kentucky Derby, trying to be the first son of Tapit to win Run for the Roses. He started his career with three consecutive races going a one turn mile at Aqueduct and Gulfstream. He debuted in November, breaking near the back of the pack and running on belatedly to get into third. He took a solid step forward in his second career start, breaking slowly, but settling nicely outside of horses. He dueled with Slip Mahoney through the length of the stretch in the mud that day to prevail by a neck. Once he got down to Gulfstream, he stamped himself as a serious contender when dominating an allowance race by eight lengths.
His stakes debut was a bit puzzling when he ran in the Tampa Bay Derby. He broke last of the 12 and spent most of the race at the back of the field. He came with a five wide bid and eventually found his best stride late to beat a soft field by two open lengths. I thought his uneven effort in his two turn debut made him vulnerable in the Grade 1 Toyota Blue Grass at Keeneland, where he’d be making his final prep for the Derby. He was a bit sharper from the gate that day, settling midpack as opposed to the back of the field. Saez moved early once he was able to get him off of the rail and outside of horses. He was four wide going into the turn and ridden hard for almost the entire final half mile. He ended up defeating Verifying, who had an ideal trip, by a neck on the wire, earning a career best 99 Beyer Speed Figure.
HOW HE FITS HERE
He’s likely going to be the second choice in the wagering behind his stablemate, Forte, and for good reason. I think he has the most raw talent and ability of anyone in the field. He’s a horse that typically likes to come from the back of the pack. He handled passing 11 horses to win the Tampa Bay Derby, so coming from off the pace is not an issue.
However, he has proven to be a quirky horse to ride, and it seems that when Pletcher gets these kinds of horses, he enlists the services of Luis Saez to try to figure them out. Since taking over, Saez is a perfect 3-3, so clearly they get along well. I am very concerned about some of his quirks though in a 20 horse field. I think post position might be more important for him in this race. Every time Saez has ridden him, he’s made an effort to get him off the rail. He was afforded that opportunity early on in the Blue Grass and his allowance win at Gulfstream when he broke from the rail. I think an inside post could be disastrous for him, unless things break perfectly. I also worry about ground loss for him though because we see every year when horses are forced to go about eight or nine wide into the stretch.
CONNECTIONS AND PEDIGREE
Todd Pletcher is a two-time Derby winning trainer winning this race in 2010 with Super Saver and again in 2017 with Always Dreaming. He may have the deepest group of horses running this year with his trio of Forte, Kingsbarns, and Tapit Trice. However, it’s also fair to point out that he has started 65 horses in this race, with only two victories. Luis Saez crossed the wire first in the 2019 Derby with Maximum Security, only to be disqualified 22 minutes later. This will be his 10th Derby Mount this year.
From a pedigree standpoint, Tapit Trice is absolutely one of the true blue bloods in the field. He’s sired by Tapit, who has sired some of this generation’s most talented horses. Flightline, who might be the most dominant horse of the last 15 years, was sired by Tapit. He’s sired four Belmont winners (Tonalist, Creator, Tapwrit, and Essential Quality), but he’s still looking for his first Derby winner. The mare Danzatrice was a multiple stakes winner, so clearly he is bred to be a good one. He was good enough for Whisper Hill Farm to pay $1.3 million for him at auction at the Keeneland September Sale in 2021. The ten furlong distance of the Derby should be well within his range.
He’s likely going to be the second choice on the morning line and in the wagering when all is said and done. He checks a lot of the boxes that you would want from a solid Derby candidate. However, if I were backing him, I’d be very concerned about how the first half mile of this race is going to play out. If he draws one of the first four or five posts, I think he’s going to have a very tough trip. From everything I’ve seen in replays, I’d have to believe that he doesn’t want to be stuck inside of horses. His riders often move him out into the clear, and if he gets buried on the rail, I’m not sure he’s going to be as able or as willing as Rich Strike was last year when he was weaving his way through the pack along the inside. He also could be one of the horses that is forced to be very wide when they turn for home. If his odds float up around the 10-1 mark, I could be convinced to use him more prominently. However, I think it’s much more realistic that he’ll be in the 5-1 or 6-1 neighborhood, which feels too short for me with all of his quirks. I’ll be playing him back in the Belmont, which feels like a race and a track that he’s built for. However, I think there’s going to be value in playing against him. At this point, I’m not planning on having him on many of my Derby tickets.