Tapit Trice rallies to Tampa Bay Derby win

With six horses ahead of him approaching the 1/8-mile pole of the Grade III, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, 1-2 favorite Tapit Trice appeared likely to be responsible for a mountain of shredded pari-mutuel tickets.

The way things turned out, the fun was just getting started.

With jockey Luis Saez asking for his best, Tapit Trice delivered, pulling clear of a rallying Classic Legacy and overtaking Classic Car Wash for a two-length victory. Classic Car Wash held on for second, followed by Classic Legacy and Prairie Hawk.

The winner’s time for the mile-and-a-sixteenth on a fast track was 1:43.37.

“It took him a while to get on track but I was very impressed down the lane,” winning trainer Todd Pletcher said from his south Florida base. “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, and once he got clear down the lane he really extended himself and I loved the way he finished up. Luis fits him well. He understands the way he needs to be ridden and he knows he’s not going to come out of the gate quickly. He gave him plenty of time to get going.”

The victory was the sixth in the race for Pletcher, more than any other conditioner.

The thrilling finish was the highlight of a Festival Day 43 card that kept a sun-splashed crowd of 6,023 thirsting for more. Total wagering handle on the 12-race card was $17,457,354, second only to last year’s Festival Day card in track history.

Tapit Trice, a son of the great sire Tapit out of the Dunkirk mare Danzatrice, improved to 3-for-4 with the victory in his stakes debut. He is owned by majority partner Whisper Hill Farm and Gainesway Stable, with its Gainesway Thoroughbreds division breeding the colt.

Tapit Trice
Tapit Trice won the Tampa Bay Derby. Photo SV Photography.

Saez, who had ridden him to victory in his previous start, an 8-length allowance/optional claiming victory at Gulfstream, knew patience was called for in the 12-horse field.

“The start was a little slow, but as soon as he started to get going, he got big-time position for us,” Saez said. “When the dirt started hitting him in the face, he was a little green. But at the half-mile pole, he got going.”

Did he ever.

Whisper Hill Farm owner Mandy Pope had doubts about Tapit Trice’s ability to come all the way back from last in the 12-horse field. “I lost track of him in the race and thought he was never going to make it up, but once he got free he ate up the ground,” she said. “It was awesome – just the whole team from Whisper Hill Farm, Gainesway, Todd Pletcher – it takes a mountain of people to be in this position, but the horse is the one who did it.”

Tapit Trice picked up 50 “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points for his Lambholm South Tampa Bay derby victory, guaranteeing him a spot in the Run for the Roses starting gate on May 6 if he continues to progress. Pletcher said the Toyota Blue Grass on April 8 at Keeneland could be a logical next step.

[Check out video of every US Derby prep race, plus news and the points standings here]

“I feel like he is still learning, though he got a good education today. But he’s a horse that I think still needs a little more racing experience to completely put everything together. If he trains accordingly, we’re going to take a strong look at the Blue Grass,” the trainer said.

Classic Car Wash picked up 20 points for his runner-up effort, improving on his third-place finish in the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes here on Feb. 11. Classic Legacy earned 15 points, with 10 going to Prairie Hawk and 5 to fifth-place finisher Lord Miles.