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Welcome to 2023 Kentucky Derby Prospect Snapshots, where we’ll take a look each week at a recent winner on the Triple Crown trail, usually from the Road to the Kentucky Derby schedule from which the racehorses earn points toward qualifying.
The 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve will be held May 6, 2023, at Churchill Downs.
This week, we’ll take a closer look at Tapit Trice, winner of the $360,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on March 11 at Tampa Bay Downs.
Tapit Trice earned his first 50 points toward qualifying for the 2023 Kentucky Derby with the Tampa Bay Derby win and moved into sixth place on the latest Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard.
Racing Résumé: Tapit Trice looks like a bit of a late bloomer for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher as he has put together three straight wins after finishing a rallying third in his career debut Nov. 6, 2022, at Aqueduct. Since the third-place finish, Tapit Trice won a maiden race going a mile on a muddy track at Aqueduct in December 2022; an allowance race by eight lengths also at one mile on Feb. 4, 2023, at Gulfstream Park in his 3-year-old debut; and the 1 1/16 mile Tampa Bay Derby by two lengths March 11.
Tapit Trice first earned some Derby buzz in the maiden win when he outfinished well-regarded Slip Mahoney by a neck after a prolonged duel in a race that was subsequently flattered when Slip Mahoney ran second in the Gotham Stakes. But it was his runaway allowance win in his first start of the year that really turned heads.
Sent off as the 1-2 favorite in the Tampa Bay Derby off that allowance win, Tapit Trice got off to a very slow start and trailed the 12-horse field after the first few strides. Still ninth with five-sixteenths of a mile remaining, Tapit Trice looked hopelessly defeated to my eyes. Once he switched leads and found his best stride under Luis Saez, however, the Tapit colt surged powerfully to take command and pull away with a final sixteenth of a mile in about 6.14 seconds.
The final sixteenth of a mile clocking was very encouraging as Tapit Trice was absolutely flying late and looked like he just jumped into the race at the top of the stretch.
“I was very impressed down the lane,” winning trainer Pletcher said. “He finished up the way we expected him to. He certainly seems like the farther he goes, the stronger he gets. He's got a big, long stride. Once he got clear down the lane, he really extended himself, and I loved the way he finished up.”
Speed Figures: While Tapit Trice earned an important 50 points toward qualifying and cleared a class test in the Tampa Bay Derby, the speed figures indicate it was not necessarily a breakout performance.
He improved two points to a new career-best 98 Equibase Speed Figure and his 88 Beyer Speed Figure was four points off the 92 he earned for his eight-length allowance romp. Likewise, the 95 Brisnet rating Tapit Trice earned for the Tampa Bay Derby win was four points off the 99 he earned in his previous start.
The Tampa Bay Derby speed figure can be viewed as both a positive and a negative. On the bright side, the Tampa Bay Derby does not look like an especially taxing race and Tapit Trice should have some fuel left in the tank for the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes April 8. The downside is he still has considerable ground to make up on the best 3-year-olds of his division. With just one prep race left, you would have liked to have seen incremental improvement in the Tampa Bay Derby so the gap isn’t quite as wide.
Running Style: Tapit Trice is pretty clearly an off-the-pace runner who prefers to make one sustained late rally, but his habit of slow starts is a bit concerning. In a 20-horse field on Kentucky Derby day, passing 19 horses would amount to a monumental challenge, so even just getting out of the starting gate a little bit faster and settling into stride a bit quicker could leave him with less work to do in the Churchill Downs stretch on Derby day.
As with all deep closers, traffic and pace are factors that are out of Tapit Trice’s control, so his fate will reside, at least a bit, in the hands of the racing gods as well as his jockey.
Connections: Mandy Pope of Whisper Hill Farm has been one of the most prominent U.S.-based buyers at auction for more than a decade since she bought Horse of the Year Havre de Grace for $10 million as a broodmare prospect in November 2012. She also purchased champion Songbird for $9.5 million at the 2017 Fasig-Tipton November Sale.
Pope breeds and races as Whisper Hill and bought Tapit Trice for $1.3 million at the 2021 Keeneland September yearling sale from the consignment of breeder Gainesway Thoroughbreds. After the sale, Gainesway maintained a minority interest in the promising colt.
The late Graham Beck purchased Gainesway Farm from John Gaines in 1989 and his son Antony now serves as the CEO of one of the most important stud farms in Central Kentucky and the home of leading sire Tapit.
Todd Pletcher is an eight-time Eclipse Award winner as outstanding trainer who was induced into the Racing Hall of Fame in 2021. In addition to Tapit Trice, Pletcher also has reigning champion 2-year-old male Forte, Sam F. Davis Stakes winner Litigate, and the promising Kingsbarns on the Derby trail. Pletcher won the Kentucky Derby for the first time in 2010 with Super Saver and again in 2017 with Always Dreaming. He also has won the Belmont Stakes four times with Rags to Riches (2007), Palace Malice (2013), Tapwrit (2017), and Mo Donegal (2022).
Luis Saez has ridden Tapit Trice for his two most recent starts and also won this year’s Sam F. Davis on Litigate, the Lecomte Stakes with Instant Coffee, and the Risen Star Stakes presented by Lamarque Lincoln and Lamarque Crescent City Ford aboard Angel of Empire. It will be interesting to see which of a strong group of 3-year-olds winds up as his Kentucky Derby mount.
Saez won the Belmont Stakes in 2021 on Essential Quality for his lone previous win in a U.S. Triple Crown race.
Pedigree Notes: From a class and stamina perspective, it is difficult to beat Tapit Trice’s sire, Tapit. A three-time leading sire, Tapit is responsible for four of the last nine winners of the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes: Tonalist (2014), Creator (2016), Tapwrit (2017), and Essential Quality (2021).
Tapit Trice’s dam (mother), Danzatrice, by Dunkirk, was a three-time stakes winner in races longer than one mile, so he also gets a nice dose of class and stamina from her. Danzatrice is a half-sister (same dam, different sire) to 2018 champion 2-year-old filly Jaywalk.
Derby Potential: I absolutely loved how Tapit Trice finished in the Tampa Bay Derby but I was worried he might go directly to the Kentucky Derby off that win. I was happy to hear he will have another prep race in the Blue Grass Stakes because I think he needs the experience and an opportunity to close the gap between him and some of the fastest 3-year-olds in the division.
He’s bred to run all day and looks like an elite closer you don’t want to leave off your exacta and trifecta tickets on the first Saturday in May, but he needs to take a step forward in the Blue Grass Stakes to become a serious win candidate for the Kentucky Derby.
If he does not deliver a peak effort in the Kentucky Derby, Tapit Trice also figures to be dangerous in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets five weeks later. He’s a terrific prospect with a world of potential and a Hall of Fame trainer capable of helping him reach it.