When we think of world class athletes, we think of physical specimens so imposing that their god-given talent seems unending. Think Zion Williamson. But these are few and far between. A slight cut below these innate freaks come worthy adversaries. Sure, the cream usually rises to the top, but athletic greatness occurs on much more of a spectrum than we’d acknowledge. Sometimes the longshots can even outperform those shiny creations, just ask Tom Brady. Sometimes plain ole timing and circumstance can get the best beat as well. Ask American Pharoah. Greatness is not permanent, it’s day to day. Talent can go dormant. Sometimes a change of scenery is all an athlete needs. Tax knows a thing or two about this.
As the only horse in this year’s Kentucky Derby that has been claimed, which came in his second start out of his maiden win for $50k going from Ben Colebrook to Danny Gargan, Tax is proof that a top horse can develop from anywhere. Since Gargan scooped him up, he’s improved immensely, finishing first, second, and third in three graded stakes at Aqueduct. His speed figs have consistently spiked almost thirty points. Aside from the trainer change, his advancement has come with the addition of lasix. The turnaround isn’t all that unexpected. A a Claiborne homebred, Tax has a tremendous pedigree. By the formidable Arch, and from the fantastic female family of Wild Applause (a maternal granddam of Tax), he’s got every genetic advantage.
Now third off the layoff, with a quality pedigree and a running style (that of a stalker/midpack type) that will allow him to stay the ten furlongs, Tax is good enough to win the KY Derby. He’s an April foal with plenty of untapped potential that seems to be going in the right direction. He is quite professional and particularly adept from the gate. Tax is commendably consistent as well, having put his best effort forth in every career start thus far. If Tax is to get beat at Churchill, where he started his career with a successful second place finish, it will be because the others are simply classier horses, not because of any deficiency of his own.
While Tax may be the most admirable horse in the Derby, he is still a longshot for valid reasons. He does not have an effort under his belt that, if duplicated, will land him in the winner’s circle. His win in the Withers in February was a production of a beneficial trip against two horses that would be laughed out of the Derby field. His second place finish in the Wood was solid, but he could not give Tacitus much of a fight in the final eighth of a mile. The Wood, in our opinion, seemed to be a bit of a lackluster final Derby prep. If there’s a horse to bet coming out of that event, it’s likely Tacitus. Tax’s speed figures say that he is certainly in the same ballpark of any contender in this Derby group, but he’s a bit suspect on class. Tax can turn out to be any type, but is probably a bit more suited to lesser graded stakes at the moment. Nevertheless, Tax will offer great value in the Derby and will certainly be on some of our tickets, even in first position.
Here are our trip notes of Tax:
5th career start: April 6th, Aqueduct, G2 Wood Memorial, one mile and an eighth
Tax is #1
Broke sharp from inside post, good speed, rated outside on first turn, a length and a half in front of eventual winner Tacitus on backstretch when in third behind wild duel up front, got a four length advantage over that one cutting into the deficit far mid-turn, took over top of the stretch but immediately hounded by Tacitus, battled some, passed at 8th pole, ridden out.
In his second start of the year, this was an improvement from his Withers win, stepping up and taking on the likes of Tacitus. While he wasn’t much of a threat in the stretch to upset that one (even with a solid lead on Tacitus at one point), he did make the first move and was ultimately barely bested.
4th career start: February 2nd, Aqueduct, G3 Withers, one mile and an eighth
Broke fast but stumbled out of the gate, settled inside in 2nd tier behind Not That Brady setting a solid pace up front, shuffled back into far turn, cut the corner into the stretch, impeded with no path attempting to come up the rail, found room when Not That Brady came out, took over at 8th pole, held off Not That Brady and Our Braintrust on the outside. A fine effort, but this was an ugly Derby prep where Tax didn’t beat much in the second and third place finishers, the latter of which was continuously fouled in the stretch.
3rd career start: December 1st, Aqueduct, G2 Remsen, one mile and an eighth
Good speed, pressed leader/eventual winner Maximum Mischief through dawdling fractions, on even terms rounding into the stretch while all out, disposed of pretty quickly into the stretch, shifted inside when tired, unable to hold 2nd at wire. A huge improvement from Tax stepping up into stakes company, putting a scare into the talented winner.
Trip notes of Tax’s first two career starts can be found in the comments.
Image courtesy of NYRA (Susie Raisher)