Making the Grade, which will run through the 2019 Belmont Stakes, focuses on the winners or top performers of the key races, usually from the previous weekend, who could impact the Triple Crown. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win classic races based upon ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey), and pedigree.
Tacitus cemented his credentials as one of the top 3-year-olds on the 2019 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve trail with back-to-back Grade 2 wins in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby and Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets. Is he one of the most likely winners May 4 at Churchill Downs? Let’s take a closer look.
Ability: A homebred of Juddmonte Farms’ elite global Thoroughbred breeding operation, Tacitus debuted with remarkably little fanfare given he was the first foal produced by popular Juddmonte champion Close Hatches, a five-time Grade 1 winner. Sent off at 8-1 odds, he finished fourth, beaten by 2 ½ lengths, in a 1 1/16-mile race Oct. 4 at Belmont Park.
Tacitus did not fly under the radar in his second start, winning a one-mile race by a neck as the overwhelming favorite in November at Aqueduct. He earned a 94 Equibase Speed Figure for what would be his final race as a 2-year-old.
Tacitus returned in March 2019 and made his stakes debut in the Tampa Bay Derby. Overlooked at 8.90-1 odds, the gray or roan Tapit colt closed from off the pace to post a visually impressive 1 ¼-length win.
The Tampa Bay Derby was regarded fairly positively from the speed-figure makers as he earned a 105 Equibase Speed Figure, a 93 Beyer Speed Figure, a 95 Brisnet speed figure, and a 117 TimeForm US rating.
The victory at Tampa was worth 50 qualifying points to cement a spot in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve for Tacitus, but moving on to the Derby with only three starts and eight weeks rest was never a strong option. Tacitus needed the foundation and experience of another start against elite competition and trainer Bill Mott sent him to the Grade 2 Wood Memorial.
Tacitus certainly got an education early in the Wood Memorial as he was bumped on several occasions and had his heels clipped from behind entering the first turn. Tacitus did appear to become an aggressor on that first turn, which given the adversity I was encouraged to see from him, and to his credit he settled in nicely in fourth after that.
Tacitus launched his winning bid on the far turn after he was 7 ½ lengths back through the opening three-quarters of a mile and he had pretty much erased that deficit an eighth of a mile later as he surged into the stretch about a length behind the lead. Tacitus outfinished Withers Stakes winner Tax to win by 1 ¼ lengths as the tepid favorite.
Tacitus earned a new career-best speed figure from Equibase (106), Brisnet (103), Daily Racing Form (97 Beyer), and TimeForm US (120) for the Wood Memorial win. The TimeForm rating was the highest for a winner of a points race on the 2019 Derby trail.
I would have liked a faster final eighth of a mile than the 13.42 seconds from Tacitus, but he again showed push-button acceleration and he proved he could overcome adversity.
Running style: In four races, Tacitus has shown the ability to stalk the pace or close, and most importantly to allow jockey Jose Ortiz to place him where he deems best. He dropped back eight lengths off a half-mile in 46.91 seconds in the Wood Memorial and was 10 ½ lengths behind a lightning-fast :45.85 half-mile in the Tampa Bay Derby. He was within a couple of lengths of the pace in his maiden win when the pace was similar to the Wood Memorial. I would guess Ortiz will try to settle Tacitus in with the stalkers — behind the speed and pace-presser types — in the Kentucky Derby and whether he races within five lengths or 10 lengths of the leaders will be a judgment call depending on how he thinks the pace is shaping up.
Tacitus does not have an electric turn of foot but he does accelerate on cue, locks in a target, and has a sustained turn of foot.
Connections: Prince Khalid Abdullah of Saudi Arabia founded Juddmonte Farms in 1977 and developed a global breeding power that has since bred 27 classic winners in England, Ireland, France, and the United States. The lone U.S. classic victory to date for Juddmonte came in 2003 with Empire Maker in the Belmont Stakes. Empire Maker finished second that year in the Kentucky Derby.
Juddmone is a five-time Eclipse Award winner as outstanding breeder (1995, 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2009) and a four-time Eclipse Award winner as outstanding owner (1992, 2003, 2016, and 2017). Globally, runners bred by Juddmonte have won more than 200 Grade/Group 1 races. Recent superstars include 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Arrogate and two-time Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Enable, who also won the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Turf.
In 2012, Juddmonte homebred Frankel became the first back-to-back winner of the Cartier Award as European Horse of the Year and retired unbeaten in 14 starts.
Juddmonte Farms has won the Arc de Triomphe six times with Rainbow Quest (1985), Dancing Brave (1986), Rail Link (2006), Workforce (2010), and Enable (2017, 2018).
Bill Mott has won three Eclipse Awards as outstanding trainer (1995, 1996, and 2011). He was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1998. Mott has won 10 Breeders’ Cup races; his lone U.S. classic success came with Drosselmeyer in the 2010 Belmont Stakes. Moss probably is best known as the trainer of two-time Horse of the Year Cigar, also a Hall of Famer.
Mott has amassed 4,908 victories and more than $274 million in purse earnings since he took out his trainer’s license while he was still in high school. Mott has 119 Grade 1 wins, including five with the aforementioned Close Hatches, from 463 graded stakes wins through April 12. Mott’s best finish in the Kentucky Derby was a seventh with Hofburg in 2018 from eight starters in the race.
Jose Ortiz won the Eclipse Award as outstanding jockey in 2017 after leading all North American riders by purse earnings with $27,318,875 and earning his first U.S. classic win on Tapwrit in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets.
Ortiz, who took out his jockey’s license in 2012, finished second in the 2018 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve with Good Magic and then ran second in the Belmont Stakes on Gronkowski.
Pedigree: Of all of the Kentucky Derby hopefuls in 2019, Tacitus might have the best pedigree to excel at 1 ¼ miles. There are several others with a strong case as well, but Tacitus is by leading sire Tapit out of Close Hatches, who won four Grade 1 races at 1 1/16 miles and another Grade 1 at 1 1/8 miles.
Tapit has sired three of the last five winners of the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes — Tonalist (2014), Creator (2016), and Tapwrit (2017) — as well as 2014 Longines Kentucky Oaks and Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Untapable. He’s also the sire of champions Stardom Bound and Hansen, Breeders’ Cup winners as 2-year-olds around two turns; two-time champion Unique Bella, a Grade 1 winner around two turns; and multiple Grade 1 winner Frosted, runner-up in the 2015 Belmont Stakes.
We’re just scratching the surface here, but the point is Tapit has had remarkable success with elite runners capable of carrying their speed around two turns.
Close Hatches, by First Defence, won nine of 14 starts and finished second in the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. In addition to the aforementioned five Grade 1 wins, Close Hatches also won the Grade 2 Gazelle Stakes at 1 1/8 miles. She was an outstanding racemare for Juddmonte whose last 12 starts all came in Grade 1 or Grade 2 races.
Tacitus’ grandam (maternal grandmother), Rising Tornado, by Storm Cat, won one of six races. She won a race at about 1 3/16 miles and finished second twice in 1 1/4-mile races. In addition to Close Hatches, Rising Tornado also produced stakes winner Lockdown, a full-sister to Close Hatches who ran third in both the Longines Kentucky Oaks and Grade 1 Cotillion Stakes in 2017.
The family is anchored by Tacitus’ fourth dam (maternal great-great-grandmother) Monroe, a group stakes winner in Ireland who produced four stakes winners, including champion Xaar.
If I had to choose today one 3-year-old to finish in the top three in the 2019 Kentucky Derby, it would be Tacitus. He has all of the tools to run a huge race on May 4 at Churchill Downs. I’d feel better about picking him on top had he finished a little bit faster in the Wood Memorial and shown a bit more explosiveness, but right now Tacitus is definitely a top contender to be my Derby pick.