While Tax parted the murky waters of the 2019 sophomore season to emerge victorious July 27 in the $600,000, Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets at Saratoga, the former claimer will have plenty to prove down the road in the Aug. 24 Runhappy Travers Stakes.
Tax turned back 8-5 favorite Tacitus with a tenacious effort in the stretch of the traditional prep for the “Midsummer Derby” but got the jump on his rival early after Tacitus stumbled badly at the break.
Jockey Jose Ortiz, who miraculously managed to remain aboard Tacitus en route to a runner-up finish, lamented the altered complexion of the 1 1/8-mile race.
“I was thinking to be very aggressive today on him going into the first turn. I wanted to break good and make everybody use a little bit at the first sixteenth of a mile,” he said. “Unfortunately, [Tacitus] stumbled, and after that I used him a little bit just to bring him up to the field, and when we passed the five-eighths pole, I saw an opening on the inside with War of Will at the front. I decided to let him go and let him catch up with the leaders a little bit by the half-mile. The rail opened for me by the three-eighths pole. I felt like it was too early to take that chance. I think the stumble cost me a lot, for sure.”
Meanwhile, Tax got the perfect trip under patient handling by Irad Ortiz Jr.
Sent to post as the 9-2 fourth choice in the six-horse field — which included Preakness Stakes winner War of Will — the Danny Gargan trainee broke alertly but allowed War of Will to set the opening quarter-mile in :24.89 on the fast main track. Tacitus trailed the field as War of Will marked the half in :48.80 with Tax tracking comfortably in second.
War of Will opened up down the backstretch and led the field into the final turn as Tacitus started to pick off horses, one by one, along the rail. Ortiz Jr., poised to strike aboard Tax, gave the gelding his cue late on the turn and angled his mount outside of the tiring front-runner.
Tax emerged with a 1 ½-length lead in early stretch, but Tacitus had him in his sights after overtaking War of Will. Tacitus dug in gamely on the inside headed to the final sixteenth, but there was no denying Tax, whose three-quarters-of-a-length score came in a final time of 1:49.28.
The start might have been a nightmare for the favorite’s connections, but the finish was a dream come true for Randy Hill, who co-owns the son of Arch with Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Hugh Lynch and Corms Racing Stable.
“You come to Saratoga, that’s what you dream about — [winning] the Jim Dandy on the way to the Travers. Dreams come true, and mine did today,” Hill said.
Global Campaign completed the trifecta, half a length in front of Laughing Fox. War of Will and Mihos rounded out the order of finish.
Ortiz Jr. said the slow start of both Tacitus and Peter Pan Stakes winner Global Campaign impacted his race tactics.
“When the speed horse [Global Campaign] didn’t break that sharp, I changed my plan,” Ortiz Jr. said of the winning ride. “I just decided to go. I told myself, ‘I don’t want to be down on the rail.’ When I got outside in the clear, I held it. That was my plan. I didn’t want to be inside. I thought I was going to have the other horse as a target, but he didn’t break, so I decided to go. We never expected War of Will to be in front.”
Tax, who battled with Joevia on the lead in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets, found a more relaxed trip in the Jim Dandy.
“Today, it felt much better than last time,” said Ortiz Jr. “When I let him run, he picked it up. I let him go, and when I asked and said, ‘Let’s go,’ he was feeling great.”
While the race may have played perfectly into his hands, Gargan said he’s also seen a change in Tax this summer.
“His last work here the other day was spectacular. It was electrifying, and this is the fittest I’ve ever had him,” the trainer said. “I knew he would dig in today.
“He’s a gelding, so he will get better with age. When a horse like this just matures and gets bigger and stronger, he can be any kind of horse at the end of the year. I’m really, really happy with him.
“We glued his shoes and changed a few things that we were doing with him, and he just looks bigger, stronger, and training more aggressive. He’s four or five lengths better than he was going into any of his races, and it worked out today.”
Tax, claimed for $50,000 out of a maiden-breaking effort Oct. 21 at Keeneland, has competed in six consecutive graded races and paid big dividends as he collected his first win since the Feb. 2 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct.
The Jim Dandy score came after a fourth in the Belmont, preceded by a 14th in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve and a runner-up finish to Tacitus in the Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets.
Tax improved his record to three wins, two seconds, and one third from eight starts, with earnings of $756,300. Bred in Kentucky by Claiborne Farm and Adele B. Dilschneider out of the Giant’s Causeway mare Toll, he hails from a heralded Claiborne family. His dam (mother) is a daughter of the graded stakes-winning A.P. Indy mare Yell and is a half-sister to stakes winner Cheery, who produced multiple Grade 1 winner Elate. Toll’s second dam is Wild Applause, a half-sister to Kentucky Derby winner Sea Hero.
Gargan said Tax is likely to make his next start in pursuit of an elusive Grade 1 victory in the summer’s marquee 3-year-old race at the Spa.
“[The Travers] is the goal, so hopefully if he comes out of this well, we’re in,” he said. “I think he likes this track and he likes it here, so that’s something we’re pushing towards and hoping we make. It’s a wide-open division. He was unfortunate a couple of times. The Derby was a throw-out race because of the way the break went and the way the track was. If you take the Derby out, he’s run as good as anyone all year. With the right trip and the right situation, he can be right there. I don’t think he was getting caught in this race. It looked like [Tacitus] was going to get him, and he didn’t go by him.”
Imperial Hint Set Track Record in Vanderbilt
Raymond Mamone’s Imperial Hint entered the Grade 1, $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga with two goals: to defend his title in the six-furlong sprint and to earn his first victory in just shy of 10 months.
Winless in his first two starts of the season, it seemed somewhat unlikely that the 6-year-old son of Imperialism would be able to repeat in the same kind of dominating performance that earned him his 2018 Vanderbilt laurels. Saturday’s field, though short, was talented-packed.
But Imperial Hint was playing to win.
In what was quite possibly the best performance in an already impressive career, the dark bay left the New York crowd in awe when he made a three-wide surge on the turn that sent him sailing across the wire in a blistering final time of 1:07.92—a track record for six furlongs at the Spa.
“When I looked at the times, my hairs stood up,” trainer Luis Carvajal Jr. said. “Last year, he gave me my first Grade 1, and this year he breaks the track record. It’s an amazing feeling, especially with [my] family here. He has a lot of heart, every time he works he has bullet works. It’s not like I want to work bullet works, but he does it himself.”—Meredith Daugherty