Five Key Takeaways from a Busy Derby Prep Saturday

Tacitus rallied strongly late to win the Grade 2 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on March 9 and earn 50 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Tom Pedulla presents five key takeaways from the $400,000 Grade 2 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs, the $300,000 Grade 3 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct, and the $200,000 Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park on Saturday.

ROUSING FINISH: Haikal’s potent late kick in the one-turn, one-mile Gotham suggests the son of Daaher, bred and owned by Shadwell Stable, will be a serious player in the 1 1/8-mile Wood Memorial Presented by NYRA  Bets at Aqueduct on April 6 and should have enough stamina to handle the rigors of the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. “He showed me every indication he’ll excel the further the distance goes, so that’s not anything I’m concerned about,” said winning jockey Rajiv Maragh. “I’m actually looking forward to him running those long distances.”

NOT SO GRAND: When Dan Ward, assistant to trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, was asked whether Instagrand will remain on the Derby trail after a third-place finish in the Gotham, he was at his diplomatic best. “We’ll see,” he said. The Into Mischief colt appeared to be a star in the making when he dominated his debut by 10 lengths last June 29 and followed that with a 10 ¼-length romp in the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes on Aug. 11 at Del Mar for another front-running score, both with Drayden Van Dyke aboard. Javier Castellano asked him to rate in the Gotham, which he did well enough, but he did not pack a punch in the stretch. Ward looked for the bright side in saying, “Those are horses that have run a distance. He’s never run a distance, one mile, and he’s been out since August.”

ROLLERCOASTER GAME: Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott endured a considerable disappointment last Saturday when favored Hidden Scroll showed he was not quite ready for prime time in settling for fourth in the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Mott rebounded when Tacitus, another Juddmonte Farms 3-year-old, powered home by a length-and-a-quarter against Outshine while setting a stakes record of 1:41.90 in the 1 1/16-mile Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby. Tacitus essentially guaranteed himself a place in the Kentucky Derby starting gate since the Tampa Bay Downs prep was worth 50 points. “We always liked this horse and thought he could be a horse that would be on the Derby trail,” Mott said.

Somelikeithotbrown wins the Jeff Ruby Steaks. (Coady Photography)

CHANGE OF PLAN: The plan did not call for Tyler Gaffalione to set the pace in the Jeff Ruby Steaks. When Somelikeithotbrown took him there with his big turn of foot, Gaffalione decided to go with the flow. “He broke so sharp into the first turn, I didn’t want to get into a fighting match with him,” Gaffalione said. “So I put my hands down and tried to get him to relax.” Somelikeithotbrown set manageable fractions of 23.61 for the opening quarter, 47:03 for the half and 1:10.78 for three-quarters of a mile, leading to a mile time of 1:37.84. He coasted to a 3 ¼-length decision in 1:52.05. Trainer Mike Maker is eyeing the April 6 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland for Somelikeithotbrown’s next start.

WRONG DIRECTION: Knicks Go showed great promise when he pulled a stunning upset by 5 ½ lengths as a 70-1 longshot in the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity last Oct. 6 at Keeneland and followed that with a solid second-place finish in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. His fortunes have plummeted since then, however. He closed his 2-year-old campaign with a distant 11th-place finish as the top choice in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. So far this season, he was dusted by 13 lengths when he finished fifth as the favorite in the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 9, and then on Saturday pressed the pace only to fade from second to seventh in a field of eight in the Gotham.

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